Monday, 12 December 2016

Practitioner 1 to 5 Grading. SGS Krav Maga.

Nomadic Kravver

Practitioner Level Gradings
SGS Krav Maga, Sydney, Australia
Sunday 11th December 2016

The Number of the Beast

After some pretty intense pre-test revision on Wednesay 7th, on the morning of the grading I got to the venue at about 8.40am.

Steven Kratsas, the chief instructor, had warned us that we needed to be there by 9 o’clock as he intended to kick off at nine twenty AND that we were to be responsible for doing our own warm ups.

Couple of laps around the courtyard then some stretching and at about 9.15 we made our way down into the “basement”.

Now…when told we’d be grading in a basement (or what crafty British estate agents call the “lower ground floor”) I had imagined a big storage area.

Turns out it was an underground car park with mats jigsawed together between the bays, some of which had cars parked in them.


Steven explained that part of the reason was due to the reduced light because most real life attacks won’t take place in a brightly lit dojo. As I’d been a fan of the Mortal Kombat game series back in the day, it was fairly surreal yet unique to be grading in what looked like a meeting point for the Gulf Cartel in Breaking Bad or where Sonya Blade might go in for a Fatality move on Sub-Zero.

Unlike the UK where only P1 is graded ‘in house’, in Australia the Practitioner levels are all tested at the students’ clubs. There were about 20 of us with the majority being P1s and the candidates for each grade thinning until we got to me at the far end, the only P5 student.

Steven split us up into pairs with me and two guys, Andy & David in a group of three as there was an odd number. Andy was going for P3 and David for P4. After the initial Kida, we went over the P1 curriculum, from straight punches to knee defences and then moved up to P2 and onwards. We handled nearly everything from levels 1 to 2 together and then the P1s went off with the instructor Yanni while Steven and Jerome took the rest of us. We began the more technical stuff such as ground releases, choke holds and wrist locks. Andy was a big bloke, while me and David were roughly the same weight and height. This meant when it came to shifting Andy off, I had to get the technique absolutely right as there was no way I could move him with just brute force.

Jerome then lined us all up and said he wanted to see a roll combination. Initially it was “forward roll with another movement of your choice”. I opted for following with a break fall but we had been warned that everyone’s favourite, the backwards roll, would have to be demonstrated. At P5 you need to know all the required tumbles and on my second go I did a forward> backward combo, which is very fiddly to get right, especially as you can’t stand up between them, it’s all about shifting your feet and twisting to accommodate the movement. 

After this we had break falls. I’m happy as a pig in clover with the normal or ‘soft’ forward break fall but we covered all of them including ‘hard’ front and then sideways and backwards. Satisfied with what we’d done, Jerome then moved us on to grade-specific criteria. Me, David and Andy moved into the various knife attacks, choke holds and bear hugs for P3 to 5.
The P1s finished their grading earlier than us and after their closing Kida, most made their way home. The extra space on the mats meant that we could spread out and we moved into some higher P level attacks and defences. When I left the UK to go backpacking last August I brought only my mouth guard. Last week I invested in a groin guard and it was $25 very well spent.
After about 3 hours we then moved into the final phase of the grading.

Now…I’ve done pressure drills, and stuff deliberately designed to invoke exhaustion in Krav Maga. Gradings particularly, the examiners will push you to your physical limits. On this day however, I was about to face a new level of exhaustion from the depths of my adrenal reserves.

On my P4 exam in 2014 Nadav Shoshan was invigilating and got us to do 50 burpees, 50 sit ups and 50 push ups AFTER the grading itself plus thirty minutes of full on sparring. I had been wrecked after this and my T-shirt resembled a used dish cloth.

This time we did multiple attackers. For the P3 to P5 guys this meant one person hitting a strike shield while three others came at him with a gun, knife or long stick. Basic point of the exercise is that you won’t win but you HAVE to keep going while trying to utilize the techniques of disarming that you have hopefully tattooed into your muscle memory. I went first and the whole thing was knackering. I could hear Jerome occasionally yelling “Lance there’s a gun, deal with the gun!” and trying to keep my distance plus avoid getting caught in the middle of the group.

We then moved through everyone else’s go before being told to get shin guards, mouth guards and gloves on for the sparring.

Steven gave us 30 seconds to get ready and said that only the kit we had on at the end of that time would we be allowed to wear on the mat. I managed to get all my gear on but one guy only had a solitary glove while David hadn’t managed to tighten up the Velcro on his shin guards and Jerome forbade him to do so during the fighting. We then got into it and initially it wasn’t too bad but after a couple of rounds I could feel the fatigue creeping back. On round 3, Steven split me and the other higher levels up and got us to fight a couple of the women from the P2 test. I got partnered with a ferocious Asian lady who had a mean round house kick. Then I got David again for the final round who is very agile and we ended up tussling on the floor.

I thought that was the end of it but then we had the final joy of a standing drill. Two lines were formed with the first person turning to face the second. Steven and Jerome announced that this was 15 seconds of continuous body punching, no strikes to the head and no footwork. You had to stand still and just punch. I opened up some remaining adrenaline that I didn’t know I had, (stored on a shelf at the back of the summer house and long covered in dust), and we moved forward one at a time to take our turn. The drill was hard and as I was the last in line I was also going to be the last person to face everyone else. There was one fighter who had a mean right hook and he caught me a right beaut’ in the guts. The pain was intense and I dropped my left arm to cover it but Steven shouted “Lance, you’ve got two arms. Hit with both”.

By this time I was completely beyond any former perception of being exhausted. My hair had come out of its pony tail and wearing 16oz gloves meant I couldn’t stop to put it back. What with the reduced visibility in the car park anyway, plus 7 inches of hair dangling across my face and my clothes sopping in sweat I felt like a scuba diver who’d just kicked up too much silt from the ocean bed and was waiting for his vision to clear.

When it got to my go as the defender, the main thing that kept me upright was knowing this was the final, final thing. Jerome was shouting encouragement and I managed to last the whole course. Then, it was over and Steven advised us to get as much water as we could inside us and then come back for a quick debrief and the final Kida.

Me and two other guys made our way upstairs to the outside tap and the sunlight that hit us was like something from a Dracula movie. 4 hours of training in a subterranean parking lot can do funny things to your eyes. I was wilting under the glare of what can only be described as God’s Flashlight as I stuck my head under the faucet and then glugged down about a litre of water before limping back downstairs.

We lined up and Steven said the instructors would compare notes and then get back to us in the following week to let us know our result. We then gave the final bow and made our way out.

This was the hardest grading I’ve ever attended with the exhaustion levels pushed WAY beyond what I am used to or expected. I spoke to Steven afterwards and when I said “That was really horrible!” he replied that the intention is to deliberately leave us that tired, so we are used to performing under stress and fatigue.

Later on a few of us went for a celebratory meal at Burger Co in the mall across town. My body’s desire for protein and carbs was about the norm for this type of thing and I don’t think the food touched the sides on the way down.

A great experience in a unique setting, in another country and it was a privilege to grade with SGS Krav Maga.

Monday, 5 December 2016

SGS Krav Maga, Sydney.


SGS Krav Maga, Sydney

Lance Manley- P4

Monday 21st November

Second city on my tour of Australia was Sydney and after a week staying in a youth hostel when I really, REALLY shouldn’t have, I looked up an old friend who said she had a spare room and I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted to, including house sitting for her over Xmas while she visited her sis in Thailand.


There are quite a few Krav Maga clubs in Sydney and a whole load are affiliated to KMG, the parent company I’m membered to. I found one called SGS in a place called Hurstville run by a G3 instructor named Steven Kratsas and he invited me to come and train with him the following Monday.

The club was slightly different to others I’ve trained in, mainly because the lessons are 2 hours long. The other difference was that they train 3 days a week on Monday & Wednesday evenings as well as 9 to 11 on Sunday mornings.

When I got there there were a lot of young students there and one surprise was that the majority were female. Steve told me later that a lot of them were their due to their parents suggesting it and many were still in High school, with some as young as 15.

The club itself is on a small industrial estate, at the back of a residential district. The Warm Up involved running two laps around the block then coming back for some serious stretching. Apart from Steven there are other instructors, two of which were training that day. Margarita and Charlie recently took the GIC and Charlie led the lesson for some of the time.
The main work out was focused on grading material, as the club were looking forward to a P level testing on December 11th. My lack of regular training revealed itself when I was attempting to do an arm/leg roundhouse block (the one where you put your elbow on your knee) and I felt like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when he seized up due to lack of lubrication.

After the main stint we then moved outside for a new twist on a theme. The main area is full of lovely, hard, concrete walls and Steven got us to pretend to be using a cashpoint or ATM when someone came up behind us and attempted to fling us face first into the wall. The reaction to this is to fling your hands up, elbows bent and let your forehead smack into the back of your hands. The delicious part was the follow up where you then do a 180 on their ass, and smack THEIR face into the wall. Me and my partner were next to two Asian girls who appeared to be really going for it, even though they obviously friends in “real life”.

Afterwards we did a drill I’d not practiced before where we all had to lie in a circle, on our backs and raise and lower our straightened legs (without letting them touch the floor) to the music playing over the PA which had the lyrics “up and down” scattered throughout. This was painful in the extreme and harked back to what I call Tourette’s Corner from gradings (everyone’s knackered and sweaty and they STILL make you do 50+ push ups/ sit ups/ burpees meaning there is a lot of swearing and grunting).

I was aching afterwards but, while limping back to Hurstville train station, it felt good to have practiced new stuff in a new club in a new country.

Sunday 27th November

I got up at the unholy hour of 6.20am to get to training, as the class was going to kick off at 9. While public transport in Sydney is fab (the joys of a ‘pay as you go’ Opal travel card) SGS is still a hike from where I was staying and I arrived at 8.45 to find a couple of other tired looking students waiting for the door to open. This time the instructor was a new guy I’d not seen before named Yanni. The attendance was smaller but we got stuck into some serious revision and kick based training. It turned out that Steven had broken his toe the previous Monday while blocking a roundhouse kick so was still involved but a little more subdued than normal.

There was a lot of talk about the upcoming grading again with both Steven and Yanni stressing to the students the importance of getting things down correctly. Steven gave an example of how a bad technique may be ignored on P1; would be criticised on P2; would cost you points on P3 and 4…but could cost you your patch on a P5 (something I’ve experienced personally).

Monday 28th November 2016

Having trained for 2 hours the day before, I wasn’t exactly skipping down the road the next day when I set off for the Monday night’s session. I’ve taken up Yoga recently and found a great video on YouTube specifically for the lower back and hips. A knee operation in September 2015 means that I am very stiff on my left side so I try to keep on top of my own mobility.

The club was busy again and there was probably about 25 guys in the room, including a lot of girls again. After the requisite laps around the industrial park and warm up, Steven got Margarita to lead the first part of the lesson and then we moved into the wonderful world of the pre-emptive strike.

Now, coming from a country like England where the laws on reasonable force are still grounded in the idea of a Victorian gentleman...pre-emptive strike, even in the UK, means that if you genuinely believe you are about to be attacked then you can hit first. We did some fun role plays where me and my partner had to do what Rory Miller calls “The Monkey Dance” and get in the other guy’s face, pushing the chest. Steven said to elicit a verbal response and THEN hit to the jaw. The idea is that your antagonist is a). Distracted and b). Their mouth is open meaning their jaw is relaxed and you are more likely to do damage to their face with a well placed sock in the chops (1960s, “Good to his mum”, London gangster Reggie Kray used to call this the “cigarette punch “ apparently). The alternative to this was to ask a question of your attacker, such as “What’s 91 + 13?” and a split second later throw a punch as they will again be momentarily distracted and engaging the “other” part of their brain to process what you said.

When we moved into groups of 3, I turned to the girl stood next to us and asked if she’d like to join. She looked a bit nervous and pointed out she was 15 and newbie but got stuck in to the scenarios no problem. Had to admire her gumption as I have had massive anxiety issues in the past with Krav and if I’d been in my second week training with two guys old enough to be my dad, I don’t think I’d have taken it as calmly as she did.

We moved outside and had to do “protecting 3rd party” where someone is trying to hit a “friend” of ours while we try and prevent it. This was designed to make us realize that thumping interventionists is not a nice thing to do, no matter how irritating they may be. We then switched to trying to stop the person being attacked from hitting their attacker (as in “leave it mate, he’s not worth it!”).

Then we had the icing on the cake.

Steven had talked about a little thing named Waterboarding from KMG's Combat Mindset & Mental Conditioning seminar and asked for a show of hands for those who wanted to try it. Only time I’d heard this expression used before was in tales of Guantanamo bay. I volunteered along with about half of the group. We went outside while Margarita and Steven filled plastic buckets with water and Steven fetched some dry T-shirts out the stores. He told us that the T-shirt would be dipped in the bucket and then placed over our faces from behind and secured by the sleeves behind our necks by one partner. We had to blindly hit at a strike shield being held by the other person, and every so often Steven would walk up and pour a bottle of water over the T-shirt to simulate the feeling of drowning.

The other guy in our 3 took it really well and lasted the course and I (in just my shorts and shoes) got ready for my go. As a scuba diver I’m bothered too much about the wet, clammy sensation of fabric over my face. While uncomfortable it was still possible to breathe relatively easily. When Steven shouted “GO!” I began punching and after a few seconds felt the water being poured over my head.


Part of my brain was telling me that this was just a drill, that I was perfectly safe and that I wasn’t REALLY going to drown. However a much more primal part of my brain leapt up from its cave and shrieked like a wounded animal before bolting into the darkest recesses of the jungle. Within about 15 seconds I couldn’t take it any more and ripped off the T-shirt, gasping for breath. The guy behind me who’d been holding the shirt smiled and encouraged me to go back in. I pulled the hood back on and began punching again but pretty quickly Steven called time and we switched positions.

The girl we were with then had a go and lasted nearly the whole minute before stopping. Kudos again as she remained calm and overcame the panic reflex, despite this being her first go as well. As there was a group of four people, Steven then asked if anyone wanted another go while their 4th guy took his turn and I went in again, this time lasting the whole minute, despite the primal animal within me still hiding in the jungle and wailing, albeit with slightly less volume than before.

Soaking wet we lined up for the final Kida and then made our way out.

Superb training and a great club and it’s been a privilege learning with SGS.