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.


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