Wednesday, 25 March 2015


On Saturday 21st March 2015 I took my P5 examination but I didn't pass it.

After a gruelling test, as me and the other nine P5 candidates sat on the floor around examiner Nadav Shosan while the sweat dried on our sodden T-shirts and we sipped water from partially crushed plastic bottles, the atmosphere was tense. He briefly broke down exactly what we'd done wrong as a group and then moved on to individual feedback and scores.

I was last up (there is a yin and a yang to being the last one in the line up. During the exam, you get to see what everyone else is doing but you also have to wait a while to know your result). He looked at me and said flatly. "You need to retest everything. The spirit is there, the heart is there...but not the technique."

As previous postings on this blog have shown, I had spent time preparing both physically and mentally for the grading and was determined to take the news, either good or bad, with dignity and a positive attitude.

Nadav elaborated that I needed to work on self defence and weapons again. I replied "Do I want to know my score?" and after totting up the individual marks he said "You got 66%".

The minimum pass is 70%. I smiled and said "I'll be back in October" which got a pat on the back from my grading partner and a round of applause from the other P5 candidates.

I felt I had prepared well. I'd spent as much time as I could in front of the TV watching the P5 DVD and practicing the moves. I'd been to the revision sessions at my club and had abstained from alcohol for a week before the testing. I'd gone to bed early with a healthy, carb-heavy meal the night before and had done yoga and a cardio based regime at the gym for 5 weeks prior.

The test itself was a mixture of P4 and P5 stuff. My problem was that I'd not revised any of my P4 material and hadn't really touched it since October of last year. I knew I was making mistakes when tested on the moves but hoped the other areas would pull me through.

The sparring was the usual gruel fest. 7 rounds of 2 minutes, slightly different scenarios each time. By round 5 I had spat my gum shield out at least twice as I was struggling to breathe. After that we had 10 rounds of 4 vs 1, with two turns as the defender and 8 as an attacker holding a stick, a knife or a strike shield.

Unlike my P4 exam where I had sat waiting for my results with certain petulance about not coming back if I failed, I was pleased that this time my genuine mindset was one of acceptance and a desire to return at a later date and pass. I didn't feel bitter, or sad or angry. I was disappointed and felt the pangs as I watched the other guys get their certificates and patches.

But overall...thanks to a mixture of hard work; reading articles on both how to approach gradings and how to deal with fear; determination to give it my all and acceptance of whichever result I was to receive.

This time the work I did, unlike on the previous 4 gradings, didn't get me the new patch. What it did do however was help me to evolve. To accept feedback from the examiner at face value. To believe that my score was fair. To know that I could come back in 6 short months and try again. Above take the experience as one of learning and improvement of my skills.

Nadav told me privately afterwards that I my P5 stuff was OK but the P4 stuff had let me down. He also gave me a massive ego boost when he said I'd got 8 out of 10 for my fighting...even though this is the one area I thought I was weakest on. Fact he had mentioned twice how much I had my hands down during the bouts meant that the high score was for how I approached the fights, not my skills as a fighter.

This was overall a disappointment but I regard it as something that has helped me to accept and to learn, and for that the experience was invaluable.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Seether

As my P5 exam looms ever closer, I find myself lapsing into the type of behaviour that I indulged in just before P4, a year ago.

Bitten nails, wandering around the flat aimlessly, even more time spent on Facebook than normal, watching movies, tidying up without a real reason to and above all...worrying.

Today I was listening to some older music from my collection that I haven't played in a while. Awesome band Veruca Salt released a song back in the 90s called "The Seether." In it the singer Louise describes the rage monster that she becomes when angry. She admitted in interviews that this was something she found unable to control and would say the most terrible things to her family and friends. The song talks about "keeping her on a short leash" and "trying to knock her out" but nothing can stop "The Seether."

Louise said she regarded it as something that overcame her and made her something totally, utterly alien to her normal self. She hated how she became but like a female Hulk, sometimes her moods just could not be controlled.

My Seether is a bit less aggressive, but still a distraction. It takes over my life and makes me fret about meaningless shit. My P5 grading is important to me but failing it is NOT the end of the world. I'll repeat that for myself:


Even typing those words I can feel my Seether getting a bit confused. After all, he/ it sat with me loyally in the run up to P4 and dutifully got me to bite my nails to red ruin, end up taking double my prescribed dosage of beta blockers and get Oxford Dictionary Ltd to phone me up asking if I'd like to be the poster boy for the definition of the word "stress".

Today I also read this excellent and reassuring article by Jon Bullock, head of KMG UK. He gives a lot of good advice about how to approach a grading with the right mindset.

My Seether is a blunt instrument and not the most intelligent of beasts. It takes all that worry and nerves and outsources them to other areas of my life. In the days before a grading I will find myself wondering if I've got enough cat litter in the house. I'll procrastinate over the fact that I have only 2 tins of tuna instead of 3. I'll even worry about whether or not to replace my toothbrush.

My Seether isn't as extreme as Louise's but it's still there. Tonight I was mirroring the P5 techniques via the DVD on my telly, and got to the bit where Eyal Yanilov is talking about breathing techniques to remain calm and focussed. He pointedly says that if you can control your emotions you will learn to "control the fight."

My Seether makes me a shadow of the man I want to be. It makes me dithery, unfocussed, tired and panicky. It takes a wonderful experience like a Krav Maga grading and turns it into a court room appearance for a murder charge.

I will now reabsorb my Seether and change it into something called The Foundation. It will aid me in the run up to my grading in 3 days with a few nerves but more a supportive way of eating healthily, sleeping adequately and keeping myself fit for the day.

The Seether isn't a bastard. It does what it's programmed to do. It can however be retrained so it's not debilitating but an asset. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Gold Arrow

I was going to write this in about 2 weeks. Probably a couple of days after my P5 grading on 21st March at Hengrove Park leisure centre in Bristol.


Writing it now reflects how I feel now and not how I might feel after the grading. My feelings are specific now. If I pass, my feelings will be euphoric. If I fail they will be downbeat. Beyond that I don't know. This blog is about now.

When I took P4 I was almost sick with anxiety. I desperately wanted it and regarded the stamp in my passport as a licence to stay in the Big Boys' club. P1 and P2 are, in my opinion, foundation grades. P3 and up are where the screws tighten. P4 was more than just a different patch. To me it was approval, acceptance and certification of not only my skills at that level but that I could reach as high as people I had always considered to be beyond attainment. It was a tick in a box that said "Good Enough."

I took the grading stressed beyond measure and my worries weren't grounded in fear of physical injury or my energy giving out. They were formed in a void of desperately wanting validation. I remember sitting on the floor waiting for my results and thinking that if I failed I would never grade again. I felt that if I couldn't make the Silver Arrow of P4 then what was the point of trying any more? My attempt had been invalidated.

Like a lot of people I need to feel approved of. I want that acceptance that comes from certifying life's tasks. As a Cub Scout in the 1980s I buzzed with a fierce pride at attaining the Gold Arrow while holding the rank of Sixer. I felt that these badges proved to me, my parents, my Akela and anyone who saw my green jersey, that I was someone who had tried and succeeded. The message of the Cub Scouts organisation had somehow got lost in my desire to get to the highest grade possible. While I helped old people, did 'Bob a Job' yearly and tried to be helpful it wasn't for love of aiding my fellow humans. It was to add points to a tally that would one day gain me that elusive and wonderful four bar patch (Sixer) on my arm and the Gold Arrow on my chest.

When I took P4 it was different to the previous 3 gradings. I went to London Copperbox arena to gain that patch to prove to myself and the world that I could rise higher. I never even realised this at the time but my motivation for that trip was solely to be able to say "Done that!"

In 2013 I took the PADI Rescue Diver course in Plakias, Crete. The actual test was crazy with me in control of six separate people including another diver, and having to personally bring up and deal with an "unconscious" diver. The skills required were hard to master, the stress levels were high and my adrenal gland was waving a white flag. The examiner/ diving club owner had specifically told me that if I bollocksed it up she would not hesitate to fail me. I passed and felt elated. But then I lost interest in diving. I didn't really think too much about it at the time but it was because I had my Gold Arrow. With only 17 dives under my belt I had achieved a high rank. It would look nice on my CV. Job done. Mission accomplished.

This week I've realised that I had booked P5 with the same mentality and, had I not sat down and thought about it, once I passed I would have probably let my Krav training drift and become sporadic. My fitness levels sliding slowly into a different size of jeans. After all, 5 bars on a patch looks much nicer than the 1 I'll get on the next level!!!

Now, the only validation I want is that of my chief instructor at Krav Maga Midlands and my own. If I pass the P5 test in 10 days and I will of course be happy. Fail and I'll be sad and also jealous of those who make it, but I will, for the first time be able to look at it as a learning experience and not another Gold Arrow that looked so very pretty. If I'm not successful I will come back in October and try again.

The freedom and ease this realisation has brought me can't be described. I no longer want to be at that grading for any reason other than personal pride and to learn.

“The only permission, the only validation, and the only opinion that matters in our quest for greatness is our own.”
Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Sunday, 8 March 2015

How I Looked vs. How I Felt

In June of last year me and 9 others were personally chosen by Eyal Yanilov to fight the Predators at the KMG World Tour. The Fast Defence guys from Wayne Hubball's Adrenaline organisation.

I've blogged about this before but something I haven't really touched upon is how different the experience looked compared to how I felt about it.

I'm currently reading Geoff Thompson's book "Fear: The Friend of Exceptional People." It's a tremendous book, crammed with awesome advice about how to cope with being scared. His best advice is simply to say "I can handle it, whatever it is."

He points out that fear is felt by everyone to some degree and if anyone says they have never been frightened then they are lying. Fear is necessary to function in life. As the saying goes "Fear shows you where the edge is." But the problems arise when fear is not acted upon but suppressed or pushed aside or ignored. Then it stays around like the smell in a bachelor pad bathroom the morning after a stag do. It helps no one and is only destructive.

Last June there were over 100 of us, eager eyed practitioners sat on the floor at Hengrove Leisure centre in Bristol, UK. Eyal Yanilov was there and it was enough to make me nervous just being in the same room as this guy. As embarrassing as that is to admit, it was how I felt. There is after all, a difference between how we feel and how we think we SHOULD feel. Jon Bullock the head of KMG UK was also there along with a vast array of UK instructors. As the initial introductions got underway, without warning two uncouth, obnoxious blokes appeared in the seating area to one side and shouted (amongst other things) that we were all a bunch of "fucking wankers" and Krav was a "load of shit." When Jon Bullock approached them to tell them to leave, one threw the drink he was holding at him. The guys looked for all the world like two ex soldiers or unemployed oil rig workers who had had too much to drink and felt like taking on a room full of Krav Maga students and their teachers, just for kicks. After nervous laughter the seminar resumed, only for the two guys to reappear at the other end of the room in Predator outfits. Alan Dennis beat them down while Eyal Yanilov was escorted off the mats.

After it was over and while relieved chuckling was heard around the room, Jon stated that at the end of the day 10 people would be chosen personally by Eyal to fight the Predators in front of everyone....if they wanted to. To be picked you had to have somehow caught Eyal's eye and shown determination, or skill, or dedication, or all three.

Immediately my mind went into hyperdrive. I was nervous anyway and this news just helped to kick the hornets' nest right over. The little gremlin in my head was nattering at full speed.

"What if I got picked? I'm not a good sparrer or fighter, that I know. I've had counselling around my reluctance to fight. What if I'm picked? WHAT IF I'M PICKED?!! Huge honour though it would be maybe it would be better if I offered it to someone like Lewis Turpin from my club. After all, he's a blood descendent of former world champion boxer Randolph Turpin and can fight for England. Yes, much better if I offer the opportunity away. I mean, I don't want to embarrass my club do I? Think of the humiliation of just freezing with your hands down in front of the worldwide head of KMG, the head of KMG UK, my own club Krav Maga Midlands' chief instructor, one of my own club's other instructors, plus about 10 guys from my club? I'm not a fighter and that's all there is to it. To have to go up in front of everyone like that would overwhelm me. It'd be like being in the Colosseum in ancient Rome. Yes, much better to give that offer away should it come my way. After all, Lewis or Al or Tomasz would put on a much better show than I ever could."

Looking back on it, my nervousness at the whole event was simply finding outlets in order to purge some of the negative energy. What I've found through my life is that my mind will uncover ways to deal with stress and anxiety but divert from the actual issue that is causing it. So, before my P4 grading in March 2014 I was nervous about everything from work to my cat to the price of petrol in Tesco. As a child I was told that I should suppress all negative emotion and that a "sulky face" brought the mood down for those around me and would not get me any friends. Better to have a "smile on my little face" and smother all that negative feeling so other people wouldn't feel put off by me.

The mind in its complexity can't handle the above scenario and what happened was my brain simply found other things to vent the stress on to.

Step back and look at this for a moment.

I'm at a Krav Maga seminar with guys from my club. Several high ranking "officers" of the organisation I belong to are in the same room as me. There's a lot of people training that day. Eyal Yanilov was a myth up to that point. Someone I'd only seen on the P1 to P4 DVDs or on photos on the Facebook group. Now I was in his presence. It was overwhelming.

As adolescent as this sounds, it was how I felt and right or wrong we can't control HOW we feel. We can however control HOW we react to those feelings.

As the day wore on we worked up a sweat and when it got to about half an hour before finishing time we sat on the floor chatting and I could see Eyal walking around and tapping people on the shoulder. I was next to my club's instructor Al, who I'd been training with. Butterflies began to fly in erratic patterns in my stomach. The "selection" was happening. The people selected would move to the mats in the middle of the room. I tried to ignore what was going on. I didn't want to "stand out" in any way and run the gauntlet of being picked. Eyal was roaming around picking people. The little voice in my head went off again.

"You can still offer this to Lewis. Anyway he's more likely to pick Al than you. Just look at the floor and try not to breathe or move until he's gone past. They've chosen 8 or 9 by now anyway so you won't get picked. Just keep staring at the floor and you'll be fine, just don't look up, whatever you do don't look......"

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Eyal's legs next to me. I heard him say "We need one more". I looked up and he was looking right at me. Smiling he asked "Do you want to do it?"

I replied "Oh yes!!" and practically leapt to my feet. As I walked to join the others I heard Al say, "Go for it Lance!"

We were taken to one side by Wayne Hubball and the rules of what was about to happen were explained. Each of us would go up one at a time against BOTH Predators with Alan Dennis as the referee/ invigilator to make certain things didn't get out of hand. The point of this was to see how we reacted under adrenalin based scenarios with little or no time to think. While he was talking I could feel my anxiety branching off and sprouting leaves in areas I hadn't known existed 10 minutes previously. Everyone else gathered around the mats and I tried to keep my eyes focussed on no one in particular. I was now beyond nervous.

As we lined up I stood at what I thought was going to be the first position but the other end of the line got to go first, meaning I would be the last one to fight.


At my club I always try to go first or second on pressure drills or scenarios where fear can be debilitating to simply get it out of the way and not let my imagination run riot.


As the fights began it looked scary. The bullet men didn't go easy on anybody. One guy was beasted by them and some actually "lost" the fights they got into. As the minutes dragged on and felt like hours, only pride was keeping me from walking out. I was scared beyond measure.

Finally it was my go and Alan introduced me to everyone and I got a round of applause. I couldn't look at anyone from my club because I thought that would make me feel even worse. Alan briefed the Predators on what to do and then whispered to me that they were going to try and box me in and I had to initially verbally communicate to try and stop it. My heart was pounding and I was trying to keep a stone face. As the Predators approached me I tried to talk them down and my voice seemed to croak out of my throat. The fight kicked off and I was jumped by the second Predator from behind. Everyone was cheering and as we tussled I managed to get on top of him and straddled him with my legs wide so he couldn't tip me off. I could hear cries of "Kick him in the bollocks!" and "In the head! In the head!"

Finally it was over and Alan pulled me off the guy. It felt like about 10 minutes had passed but in reality the fight lasted about a minute. Now it was over I felt good. The nerves were gone and the annoying gremlin voice was nowhere to be heard. All those nerves and stress and above all FEAR had tested my courage more than the fight itself.

Afterwards someone said I looked "Well ready for it" and  a good mate from my club said that my nervousness hadn't showed and " The trademark Manley swagger said 'I'm ready for this shit, bring it on'. Time to give your hypnotherapist a bonus." I hadn't felt like that at all, I had in fact been scared out of my wits.

What this made me realise is that some of the most stone faced fighters in my club are probably just as scared as I was when in similar situations.

Fear can indeed show you where the edge is. It just needs taming first.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Acting Up

Assisting at Kiddy Krav Maga classes is LOADS of fun.

At Junior Safe Krav Maga every Monday in Leamington Spa I get to run around the mat for nearly an hour with anything between 8 and 15 children aged from 5 to 11 and play loads of games with them.

Fundamentally we are teaching them to defend themselves against Bad People, so as a bonus I get to be a movie villain like the Sheriff of Notttingham from Robin Hood or Vector from Despicable Me. We pick them up, grab them and bop them on the head with spongey pads. All to improve their reflexes, boost their confidence and above all make it much harder in real life for a genuine Bad Person to make their lives difficult.

We play team games; games based on endurance; games based on single minded determination and at the end we choose two students who have shone out and they get to kneel next to me and the instructor Russell for the final bow.

This post shows the rewards this kind of thing holds for me but last week it went a step further when Russell's car broke down.

He cancelled the class and apologised to the parents via text and Facebook. I called him up and was like "Err... I can carry this today if you want. Why didn't you ask?"

Ever the gentleman, he replied "I didn't want to simply assume you'd do it."

At 3 hours notice I was a tad nervous and as Russell reversed his decision to postpone the class I made mental notes on what games to play with the kids. That annoying inner gremlin was whispering in my ear saying such unhelpful things as "What if they don't want to work with you. Russell is their favourite, not you?" Or "What if you can't control them  and they start acting up and won't listen to you?"

I told the voice to do one, and carried on planning the lesson.

 When I got there the kids were drifting in, clearly hyped that they still had a class and running about as normal. I was expecting about 5 of them but by the time I got them lined up for the first "Kida!" there were 12.


I explained that Russell was unable to make it but we'd still have loads of fun. As the usual toys were locked in Russell's car which was now at the mechanic's shop I had brought a pillow from home and chucked that at them for a bit. If caught they had to do a handstand against the wall and could only be "released" if someone crawled under them. After a few push up and sit ups we then moved on to team work with me padded up (groin guard being a pre-requisite when working with little people who are being taught to kick) and wearing a helmet. I got them to run at me in pairs and I would grab one of them. They had to work together to get that person free. One or two missed the point and hurtled off to the end of the room while their mate struggled.

"Great friend you are!" I would shout until they then ran back and dished out a few kicks and punches to make me let go.

The parents sitting round the edge of the room had offered to help out if I needed it so I had one of the dads try and flip me over while I tried to remain belly down on the floor. Kids got into that one and we worked out a few of their favourite games such as Zombie Tig (harder to understand than American Football) and Dodge Ball.

Finally I got a ringside mother to "volunteer" to help me with the last game of the session. The kids were in teams and had to run up one at a time (apart from one little girl who ran with her best friend) punch the strike shields we were holding and then push us to the back of the room and run back to their mates.

Ever competitive they were cheering each other on until the last one came through.

After the final bow I felt both relieved that the lesson had gone well and also elated as it was LOADS of fun. A few of the parents thanked me, with one or two paying compliments and I got some of the kids to beat me up for a souvenir video.

Brilliant time. 

NB. Not available on YouTube. Link only goes to the main page.