Sunday, 28 June 2015

Krav Maga Chania part 1

My father retired out to Crete in about 1997 and for the last few years I have paid him a visit in the summers, having a wonderful yet usually booze-fuelled time in the sun kissed, beach paradise that is Plakias.

Last year I thought about training with a Greek Krav club while on holiday but the nearest one was on the mainland in Athens.

This year I was more fortunate as Dimitris Kontekakis recently converted from Pure Krav Maga to KMG in November 2014. His club has about 50 members, including a small kickboxing club and a junior Krav Maga club of children. When I contacted him he was more than happy at my suggestion that I pay him and a visit to train with them.

Plakias is fairly isolated and about 60km from Chania so I planned out getting there the day before and also laid off the beer in preparation for Kravving abroad. It took two buses to get to the city and when I rolled in, the hotel was a pleasant walk from the coach station and I checked in before phoning Dimitris to touch base. He offered to pick me up on his motorbike about 8.30pm and advised me to chill out with a coffee and get something to eat. When he arrived to pick me up I think it's the first time I've had an in depth conversation about Krav Maga, while riding through the streets of a city on the back of a motorbike.

We got to the club to see some guys already there, stretching and warming up. The heat was strong, which I assumed was the reason for the late start time, and even with two ceiling fans, the heat was something I knew I'd need to try and manage. After being introduced to everyone I got changed and we lined up for the initial Kida. We did some group warming up and more of the ever necessary stretching and then Dimitris formally introduced me to everyone and said that out of respect for "our guest" the lesson would be conducted in English, with him speaking in Greek after for the students who didn't understand it. This was decent of him as I'd imagined he would translate for me, not the other way round. Dimitris then said we would be working on blocking kicks, covering most types of both kick and defence and said he would appreciate my feedback on anything I felt like adding to the mix.

We worked as both attackers and defenders and despite going "light" during the drills (I had left my shin guards at home) me and my partner banged bones a couple of times and were hopping about, silently cursing.

I was finding the heat in the room oppressive but as we hadn't been told to take a water break, and no one else had asked to, I was determined not to be the first to ask. After about 30 minutes Dimitris told everyone to get a drink and I chugged about half a litre. I then jokingly mentioned not wanting to "wimp out" and, in the spirit of true Krav Maga common sense, he told me that I should have done as I wasn't used to training in this heat.

We moved on to blocking stomp kicks with arms and hands, and he used my wonky finger (from incorrectly blocking a kick in training with an open hand last October), to warn the others of the necessity of correct technique.

We switched to striking focus mitts, with a group of 6 in the middle and another half dozen guys holding the pads in a circle. You had to go full out on the pads with the guy holding them dictating what strikes were required by changing positions.

After this we had a pressure drill doing choke hold releases...but with the added twist of it being in the dark with the lights off. I hadn't tried this before and it got the adrenalin flowing to be fighting with shadows while INXS's "Suicide Blonde" was playing loudly over the gym's stereo to further up the mood factor.

Finally we moved on to some bag work to wind down, and then lined up for the final Kida. I was soaking wet with sweat and so tired that I was rummaging in my backpack for the Krav Maga Midlands T-shirt I'd brought as a gift, that it took 2 minutes before I realised it was someone else's bag. Finally locating it I handed it to Dimitris who grinned and said "I have one for you, but you beat me to it."

He then invited me back  in 2 weeks to train again and have a meal with him and the club.

So...I get to do this again in a fortnight.

Watch this space.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Brace Yourself

I have a snapped ACL (anterior crusciate ligament) in my left knee. It broke in 2001 and I've never had it repaired...but this year I finally will. It aches when I train in Krav and unless I wear not one but two elasticated supports on it, it will sometimes swell like a balloon and hurt like a bitch the next day. I can't go running (advice of a sports masseur/ knee specialist) and flexibility on that leg is piss poor (kicks to anywhere higher than an opponent's belly button are in the realms of fantasy). I have always regarded this injury as debilitating and something that has affected my ability to be fully effective in both Krav and the rest of my life. Last week I flew to Crete for 4 weeks holiday and made doubly certain that I packed BOTH knee supports for when I go to join Krav Maga Chania, a club on the island who have invited me to train with them.

Today I was hanging out at the beach with a few pals and got introduced to an Australian girl with a broken foot. I initially believed that her foot HAD BEEN broken and now had healed...but was probably still a bit sore.

Turns out that her foot was STILL broken and was in the process of healing. She had come to the beach with her pals, but as its access is via a rocky cliff face only...she had gone to the neighbouring beach and then swum round to join her mates....who had carried her foot brace in a bag for her. Already impressed by this I was even more inspired when she swam back round as we were leaving, rendezvoused with us at the top of the drive leading to both beaches, strapped on her brace and then clopped off down the a pace slightly faster than my normal "On Holiday Stroll."

She snorted at the idea of taking a cab from the taverna 10 minutes further down the road and after we'd stopped there for lunch we walked back along a trail that required climbing fences, navigating goat paths and walking through olive groves. She didn't moan or complain once and when I asked if the brace didn't sweat a bit, she replied that it came with a sock but she'd stopped wearing it and that it now "chafed a bit" but didn't elaborate further.

On the final stretch of the walk home she asked where a good bar with dancing could be found and also a decent beach for snorkelling. She added that it should be relatively close to Plakias but only because her foot meant she was limited in range.

Meeting her today has made me realise that a LOT of what's holding me back is not actual injury or obstacles but my perception of them. While I'm not so bendy on my left side any more my main worry in training is what MIGHT happen due to the ACL being in tatters...not the fact that it actually is.

"In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision."

– Dalai Lama

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Review of Adrenaline Level 2

Harlow Leisurezone, Essex, UK
Saturday 6th June 2015

By Lance Manley

"Let Us Prey!"

Fast Defence UK has been around for about 30 years. Considered by many to be the "missing link" between self defence and martial arts training, FAST stands for "Fear, Adrenaline and Stress Training."

Their website states "FAST training empowers people by teaching how to manage the adrenaline release – no matter what the perceived threat and no matter what the context – and use it to create the most appropriate win." Most importantly it also says that training teaches people to "avoid, defuse and, if absolutely necessary, stop violence directed at them."

I had a taste of what this involves in June 2014 at the Krav Maga Global World Tour with Eyal Yanilov (KMG Chief Instructor). Me and 9 others got chosen by Master Eyal to fight what are known as the "predators". These are aggressive, violent and ferocious attackers who come out with verbal as well as physical assaults. The basis of the scenarios we entered can be boiled down to this:

"One or more guys are in your face. What are you going to do?"

Predator armour is unique in design in that it allows full freedom of movement for the person inside the "suit" but also allows their opponent/ victim to strike to the face, chest and groin as hard as they can.

Adrenaline level 1 is based on one attacker and encourages the use of "tunnel vision" to retain focus on what is directly in front of you.

On Adrenaline 2, the game is changed in that you have multiple predators and have to deal with varying scenarios with between 2 and 5 attackers.

I'd been looking forward to this for several months and arrived early at Harlow Leisurezone. I met Andras Millward, Director of Instructor Development for FAST in the canteen. I asked him about FAST's recent surge in popularity and he said:

"There's been a big change, big upheaval in the FAST defence world. WE knew it worked but we weren't very good at telling the world it worked. A LOT of new people have come on board now. It's a lot stronger. Our relationship with Krav Maga Global is really helping our profile as well. We're like one of the best kept secrets in the world. Today we've got 50 to 55 students booked in. On Adrenaline 1 we had people coming here from abroad, countries like Switzerland, France and Norway. Our purpose today is to give you all more information about the adrenal release and response and then put you back in it again."

We kicked off just after 10.30am and Andras plus the head of Krav Maga Global UK, Jon Bullock spoke to us about what the day had in store. Then we had a lecture from Dr Kirsty Hunter, about the scientific aspects of the body's response to threat. We were told about the importance of correct breathing (inhale to belly, then chest through the nose, exhale through the mouth) and the different reactions to fear. She also told us about FAST's "A,B,C's" which stands for Awareness, Boundaries and Conflict Resolution (or Combatives).

Awareness means the ability to observe and accurately interpret stimuli within our environment and then identify and manage our own internal state. Boundaries means knowing how and when to establish recognisable physical and/or emotional boundaries, and is considered essential to what FAST teaches. Combatives covers situations that require physical self-defence and provides simple and effective techniques that can be learnt and applied successfully by all, irrespective of age or sex.

After Dr Hunter had spoken to us we then moved into the preliminary phase of the training, the "woofing."

Woofing refers to where people are threatening or verbally aggressive in order to test boundaries. Like a dog barking, the expression describes how people can behave when trying to intimidate or even attack others. We were told that body language is VERY important for us in these scenarios. You are taught to stand with your feet steady but NOT to assume a "fighting stance" (which comes so easily to those who train in martial arts). You start with your hands held loosely together below your waist and only raise them if you feel your boundaries are threatened. Even then you are told categorically not to point or look like you are pointing, so you keep your hands with the palms facing forwards. Language is crucial and swearing a BIG no-no. The question "What do you want?" is designed to make an aggressor actually think of a response involving what is known as higher brain function as they have to consider their response. We were encouraged to utilise the phrases "You need to leave!" and "Back away!" or Back off!" when dealing with threatening or intimidating behaviour.

There were two groups with a coach and several "woofers" on designated areas of the sports hall. One at a time we went out onto the mats and had to deal with them. The guys we were facing wore sunglasses so you couldn't see their eyes, further upping the adrenaline factor and their behaviour towards us ranged from mildly obnoxious to criminally aggressive. In order to enhance the realism of the role plays, the actors would pick up on personal traits or clothing choices. I wear bandanas to keep my hair out of my face in training and that day was wearing a camouflage patterned one. Sure enough, the opening line as they pounded towards me was "You in the army or something?!!" When I replied "Sorry mate, I can't hear you" the guy snarled and went "What you deaf as well?!! And I'm not your f***ing mate!!!" Heart hammering in my chest I stuck to the game plan, while coach Caroline Braxton stood behind me observing what was going on. I shouted "BACK AWAY!!! JUST GO!!! LEAVE!!!" and various combinations while the actors continued to make fun of me but did back off. Anatoli Krassavine from my club Krav Maga Midlands was there and it was good to have a team mate on board.

As the others went up it was clear that the actors wouldn't back away unless we ticked certain boxes with regard to etiquette on our own behalf. Anyone pointing (a gesture infuriatingly easy to make when your hands are outstretched) would have the actors yelling indignantly at them and coming back. Anyone who walked towards them (again, an easy mistake to make) would be perceived as "wanting some". Finally we all went through the drills and during a short lunch break I spoke to FAST UK Director Wayne Hubball and Caroline Braxton.

Wayne said, "It's gone very well. Everyone seems to have picked up all the learning points. It's great to see how people have advanced from Adrenaline 1."

Caroline is also a specialist in Neuro Linguistic Programming and incorporating FAST into corporate business. She said, "I think it's going really, really well. The training's embedded in them and while you all might not remember what you did in Adrenaline 1, it's all coming back. It's a nice recap."

After lunch Jon Bullock then took us for what could euphemistically be called a "warm up". We worked on trying to get our partners to the floor; punching to the body; groups of 3 with two vs one and several variations. Jon told us on several occasions not to "pretend" about what we were doing and to deal with our movements realistically. This went on for about 40 minutes and was about as gruelling as my last Krav Maga grading. Afterwards Jon stated that while we might hate him at that moment he had done us a favour by "inoculating" us to what we were about to do and also getting us used to being in close quarters brawling. He also pointed out that the biggest fear we really had was not of getting hurt but of failing, or looking foolish in front of our friends and peers.

Then it came time to meet the predators again. The last time I faced these guys I was beyond nervous. This time I was enthusiastic but there was no way of denying that the nerves were jangling once more. We split into two groups of roughly 25 people, with a coach and several predators per group. The students lined up facing each other either side of the squares, and each line took turns. The worst part about this is the initial phase, where you stand, usually with your back to the predators and close your eyes. You inform the coach of any niggling injuries (in my case a dodgy left knee) and she will signal to them which bit of your body they should try to avoid hurting. Then the game's on.

The first time I was up, I got violently shoved forwards and whirled to find a guy stood behind me, shouting incoherent threats and trying to slap and push me. His mates were also marching up and then I was retaliating. You have no chance to try and remember what techniques you may have learned in Krav or any other discipline, you are operating solely on instinct and muscle memory. The whole thing was a blur that retrospectively seemed to last about 2 seconds. I remember using an elbow strike to knock one opponent on his back and that was about it. Before I knew it the whistle was blowing and it was all over, people clapping, and me trying to get my breath back.

It was interesting to see how different people handled the situations. Some of the better fighters really made their punches and kicks count while the most aggressive fighters in these situations appeared to be the women. After a short break for the predators to breathe, we went up once more. The second time I had a rougher deal with one guy pinning my arms. I was screaming a lot of abuse and dropping clusters of C-bombs while Caroline encouraged me to yell at them. One or two of the other guys who went up had opportunities to use verbal "persuasion" rather than just punching, proving the point that if you are trained to handle adrenaline you can react appropriately. Another thing that happened four or five times was guys losing their T-shirts while grappling. The predators would take advantage of this and try and keep it over the practitioner's face unless they managed to wriggle free.

Our side of the room finished before the other and we joined the remaining group to give them some encouragement. Amusingly, the predators from our side then joined in, meaning some guys had to fight up to five at a time.

Finally we stopped and Andras Millward gave a closing talk followed by Jon Bullock who asked us how we felt the day had gone and got us to give a round of applause to the "crazy guys" who donned the Predator armour. We then got our attendance certificates and shook Andras's hand before changing into fresh T-shirts and anticipating a good meal and a shower.

Afterwards I spoke to Krav practitioner Barry Macinnes.
"Thoroughly enjoyed it, very good. Even better than the first one and it's spurred me into becoming a FAST instructor."

I also spoke to Andras Millward who said, "I love doing these events with KMG. You guys come in with full commitment and honesty and it makes our job a lot easier. You really bring your heart and soul into every fight. In the grey areas of verbal assertion you guys are really good. A lot of you handled some very, very complex scenarios."

Jon Bullock was also very pleased with how things had gone.
"The idea was obviously to give them the adrenaline experience again. What we did this time was change the dynamic. So there's pressure but there's more things to think about such as movement, positioning, dealing with more than one person. It is likely that in general a self defence situation would involve more than one person."

I asked him to sum up the day in three words and he replied, "Experience, learning, and review."

A great day for everyone involved. The predators, coaches, instructors and students all had a great time and I cannot speak highly enough of this event. Adrenaline is just what I needed. I am now, like Barry Macinness, looking forward to getting more involved in this world and the future is bright.