Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Coffee Without Sugar


Recently, mainly on the advice of a very special friend, I have decided to slowly eliminate sugar from my diet. After 7 months on my arse watching TV shows I have what could politely be described as a soggy midsection, and need to get back to the washboard of a year or so back.

My friend's advice is that once you cut out sugar, you notice the real taste of foods that you would normally drown in sweet overkill. So candy, chocolate and popcorn are no-no's. Also all yogurt bar Greek. Slowly I've been turning away from saccharine heaven and letting my taste buds adjust to the actual flavour of my favourite foods

It hasn't been easy.

I knew cold turkey was a bad idea, so instead I decided to gently wean myself away from the euphoria of Demerera. The biggest pleasure involving sugar that I had was a cup of coffee with three teaspoons

Now I'm not talking about Nescafe. I'm talking specially purchased beans from a friend's cafe just over the road. Concocted in Belgium and shipped over here, these beans are to die for. I have my own coffee grinder and every morning, plus once in the afternoon I will lovingly place two shovel fulls in the mouth of the machine and then hand grind them into grains. Then I'll get out the caffetiere and wait the requisite three minutes before gently activating the plunger.

I'd then put in three brown sugars and gently sip at my mug while checking emails or watching a TV show.


Getting used to the taste of coffee on its own has proved a challenge. Coffee without three sugars, has quite frankly been utterly minging for about a week. Now however I'm used to it and can enjoy the flavours much more as my protesting tongue has settled into a routine and my pleasure glands no longer crave the brown stuff.

Sometimes you need to change in order to accept something new.

Tonight at Krav I was partnered with a guy who has excellent footwork. A few minutes into punching practice and he asked me with a chuckle "Do you always do that thing with your foot before you punch?" It was only then that I realised why people who can fight well tend to see my movements before I throw them. I am advertising the fact. Before a jab I would stutter forward with my left foot. In 5 years I'd never realised this. My partner also pointed out that my face gave away that I was about to attack, as did my shoulders when it came to telegraphing punches or elbow strikes. Crucially I would drop my arm in order to sweep in with a hook punch, and on top of that, didn't move my hip to emphasise the punch. That plus my fighting stance (left leg too far forward so it could be swept away).

I tried to not do these things and, like sugar in coffee, it proved to be a bit of an arse ache. I would still do them, as sub consciously my body thought the movements were "normal". So I reduced the sugar from three to two, not three to zero. I concentrated o the footwork and focussed on not moving my feet as I threw punches. As the class progressed I could feel some improvement in these mistakes but know that it will take a lot of practice to get this knocked into shape.

I needed to retrain my taste buds to like coffee without sugar.

I need to unlearn in order to get better.

Sunday, 12 June 2016


In exactly one week I fly to Tel Aviv in Israel and from there will make my way to Haifa, home of Krav Maga Global's HQ.

For 5 days I will learn the intricacies of the Kids Instructor Course.

This has been something I've desperately wanted to do for about 18 months.

Since January of 2015 I've assisted at my local kiddy Krav club, Junior Safe Krav Maga. Headed up by Russell Brotherston, one of the instructors from Krav Maga Midlands, this was initially a daunting and knackering task every Monday. Nothing has more zest for life than a 6 year old child. They can run rings around all adults bar Olympic athletes with their indefatigable desire to expend as much energy as possible. I've worked with kids for over 20 years in various roles but above all I find teaching children Krav Maga immensely rewarding. The kids are predominantly girls (a flip from what we call Big Krav to them, where the ratio is about 1 woman to every 10 blokes) and helping them develop the self confidence to "walk in peace" (or even skip merrily) is a massively satisfying thing to do. The little girl from THIS STORY is now one of the most confident in the class, throwing roundhouse kicks with full force and getting stuck into everything we do.

I've always wanted to back up the experience and knowledge I've gained in a year & a half, with formal certification. The last KIC in the UK ran while I was off sick after a knee operation and the only one happening soon that I could attend, was in Israel. Without GIC under my belt I was obliged to get a recommendation from not only Russell but also Jon Bullock, the head of KMG UK. I spent 20 minutes drafting an email to Jon, outlining my reasons for wanting to attend KIC and citing my extensive experience plus my recently acquired Paediatric First Aid certificate. True to form Jon signed off on it with the pithy reply "No worries at all, good luck".

After applying to Israel and getting accepted onto the course I was informed that my certificate will be an Assistant Instructor Diploma, automatically upgrading to a full Kids Instructor should I ever take GIC in the future. Once the euphoria had abated slightly I set about doing the more laborious stuff. A flight, accommodation and sussing transport routes. The flight was easy but accommodation proved trickier. I eventually got a studio apartment via the wonderful Airbnb website (like Couchsurfing but you pay). I also booked a "chill out day" before flying home, meaning I can hire a car and take a look around Israel (or at least the bits nearest to Haifa).

And the trainer will probably be Zeev Cohen.

One more thing to pretend to not be worried about.

I'm nervous as hell but thrilled to bits to be a part of this.

* Check out my latest book, WALK IN PIECES: DIARY OF A KRAV MAGA PRACTITIONER. Available on Amazon.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Gates

As I get older I am into what has turned out to be a wonderful phase of my life. That is (drum roll)...being comfortable being within my own limitations.

Most of my life has been spent trying to live up to some virtually unattainable "other" side of myself that I thought was what people wanted to see.

Like a lot of middle class English kids, I grew up being told that certain clothes were for "best". That meant virtually no pleasure could be derived from wearing them as I had to stand still and try not to let air touch my "best" trousers or my "special" coat. I vividly recall the genocidcal rage my mother flew into when my younger brother came into the house in his bestest trousers....splattered with mud after being knocked down by a friend as a joke. This wasn't done with any malice but as my old dear had to have someone to blame, in order to vent her spleen, she blamed my bro' as he had "allowed it to happen".

But I digress.

I always used to envy the very few people I'd see, who appeared comfortable in their own skins. People who appeared happy with their lot and wore everything they put on with ease and a sense of feeling OK with the world. Not concerned with pettiness or shallow praise, they were "normal" in the most extreme sense of the word. Able to enjoy the gift of being alive and move through life treating emotions like the tides of the sea; natural and part of living.

I've spent most of my life trying to always get one better on myself. No matter what I did there was always that nagging belief that I should still try just one more notch higher at the very least.

In Krav Maga gradings I have summoned energy from rations I never knew I had hidden within me. For someone who is only reasonably fit, doing a 3.5 hour technique based exam, followed by 30 minutes of sparring, followed by whatever evil shit the examiners make you do at the very end (usually push ups, sit ups and burpees)...will sap your energy like bloatware on a smart phone. As if I was some Antarctic explorer, finding his way back to the food parcel I'd left two weeks before on the frozen ice drifts, rocked by blizzards I would struggle to carry on but carry on I would. The energy was found but anyone who's graded higher than a P2 in Krav will know the pure pain of this experience.***

Yet, even though I gave my all, as I struggled out of my soaking wet, torn T-shirt and guzzled Lucozade there was that whiny voice in my head telling me that just maybe I could have done more. Either in the weeks beforehand at the gym, in order to boost my cardio, or on the day itself with some indefinable extra "stuff".

Photo by Bartosz, Krav Maga Midlands

Recently I have started talking to a lady friend of mine. It turns out we have similar feelings towards each other and have had for a long time, but neither let the other know until recently. Once we got past the astonished "I just wondered, did you ever? All the time?!!" stage we began chatting a lot about our lives and for once I decided to do an utterly unheard of and radical thing and simply not beef up or embellish anything.

I stated how much I thought about her and how much I wanted to see her every day but I didn't lie about my sexual proclivity or prowess. I contradicted her statement that I'd have "girls all over me" when on holiday with the news that because I'm usually drinking heavily, I'm not interested in banging everything that has a vagina and a passport saying "Female".
For once I wanted to actually be "real" about myself and not try and hit some higher note in the hope of making a better impression.

I also figured out why I bite my nails so badly. A dirty habit that I have been unable to stop...until recently. At school I did it due to the constant bullying and fear of abuse. Decades later...well, I was at a loss. The reality was that like many people I wasn't satisfied with who I was and was constantly trying to chip away at the "not quite good enough" version of me to find a shiny, better one underneath. Akin to a stonemason with a hammer and chisel, I was waiting for something better to emerge from the ugly, raw rock that stood facing the world.

The gates over my true facets and traits have been there for a very long time. There was the one that barred the way to my insecurities. Another that hid my fears over fighting (although I dismantled it a few years ago and then rebuilt it with a freshly oiled hinge and no lock). There was yet another that wondered if my fashion sense was just a bit shy of being cool enough to hang out in public.

Overall the gates existed for very good reasons. We are all to some extent, afraid of being hurt. By peers, by friends, by enemies, by those we love or admire. We move through life trying to avoid as much pain as possible while taking in the pleasures that we can.

What I have found over the last year or so is that to fully be immersed in pleasure, you have to leave the gates open. If you do then you will become happy with your life but may chance upon pain if it slips through the opening. The alternative is that you bar everything from entering your life, experiencing neither pleasure nor pain.

Live like someone left the gate open.

Nuff said.


*** Although this seems to fade the higher up you go. I saw the G4 and G5 candidates sparring a while back at G camp. Fitness levels well within endurable parameters (although one guy did have about 15 treacly flapjacks in a box by the side).