Krav Maga and Me

So I’ve been taking martial arts classes. (Don’t worry, this will not be a self-indulgent “here’s why I haven’t been posting and I promise to post more” posts. Those of you who cared have emailed me, and as my priorities shift I may well post less. It will, however, be self-indulgent: there is lots of “this is my life” stuff and there are many shoutouts to some people who have helped me improve, with a little tie-in to the law at the end…maybe, if I feel like it.)

When I decided to reinvent myself physically (the most recent in a string of reinventions going back to 1984) I didn’t go directly to martial arts. Rather, I first hired a personal trainer (Phil Biggs of Body By U Fit). Phil did a great job of getting me motivated and into new habits of regular exercise. I recommend Phil highly as a trainer, but I like to go my own way. Having developed good basic habits with Phil, I started strength-training on my own with barbells following Stronglifts 5X5 and Starting Strength.

(The first paragraph from Starting Strength:

Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not. As humanity has developed throughout history, physical strength has become less critical to our daily existence, but no less important to our lives. Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies. Whereas previously our physical strength determined how much food we ate and how warm and dry we stayed, it now merely determines how well we function in these new surroundings we have crafted for ourselves as our culture has accumulated. But we are still animals – our physical existence is, in the final analysis, the only one that actually matters. A weak man is not as happy as that same man would be if he were strong. This reality is offensive to some people who would like the intellectual or spiritual to take precedence. It is instructive to see what happens to these very people as their squat strength goes up.

I was one of “these very people”; my opinion changed as my squat strength went up.)

Having laid down a basic foundation of strength, I looked for a way to apply it and to add some conditioning in to my schedule. I had taken a few Jeet Kune Do and grappling classes from Tim Mousel at Mousel’s Self-Defense Academy some years ago, but had stopped when I blew out an umbilical hernia, which required surgery and sidelined me; I had never returned. I knew that I wanted to get back to martial-arts study, so I emailed Tim, but didn’t hear back from him (I later learned that he had been out sick).

One of our kids is taking Tae Kwon Do classes at Apex Tae Kwon Do. Master Juan Portal, the teacher there, is among the best teachers I’ve seen teaching anything—and I’m a connoisseur of fine teaching. I wanted something more immediately practical and less formal than TKD, and Master Portal had a Krav Maga certificate on the wall, so I asked him for a recommendation for a Krav Mag teacher. He steered me toward David McCloskey, another Tae Kwon Do instructor, who also teaches Krav Maga at Copperfield Krav Maga.

David followed the Commando Krav Maga curriculum at Copperfield when I started there. Classes cost $99 a month; I made them a semiweekly part of my routine. I learned a lot fast, but at first they were so physically draining that I couldn’t work out on the day after and couldn’t afford to do any other heavy exercise on the day of, so my strength training dropped off. I eventually reached Tim Mousel again, and set up weekly private self-defense lessons in the park for some additional exercise and a different perspective.

At Studio Fitness in the Heights, where I had trained with Phil and worked with barbells, one of the trainers, Alex Guajardo (Facebook), had boxing and Marine-Corps martial arts (MCMAP) experience. I arranged for a weekly boxing session with Alex to work on my form (for most strikes, power comes from the hips; the conscious transmission of power from my core to the striking surfaces of my hands was new to me). I’ve been working with Alex on Monday mornings (a benefit of being self-employed) or Saturday mornings.

After a couple of months of Krav Maga classes, CKM instructor Robin Short returned from the Far East, where he had been teaching Karate. Robin is a black belt in Shotokan Karate and Kissaki Kai Karate, with a teaching style complementary to David McCloskey’s; he added some pressure-point work to the CKM curriculum. He also added a Sunday-morning Krav Maga class, so I added another couple of hours of KM to my weekly routine. Robin is rougher than David, but is still very patient—fortunate for me because in martial arts classes I am, frankly, the slow kid.

About when Robin returned a two-day weekend Krav Maga seminar was advertised at CKM. I, of course, immediately signed up. When the weekend came, I was fairly nervous—it was to be nine hours of training each day, and everyone in the room but me and Andy Stuart already had a black belt in something—Karate, Tae Kwon Do, or both.

I shouldn’t have been nervous. The instructor, Ryan Spink of Victorville Krav Maga in California and Team Kadima, is a very funny guy who knows his stuff and loves to teach. As you might expect, the combination makes him an effective instructor. He managed to keep me and Andy up with the rest of the class (except, I think, in the stick work, which I couldn’t wrap my brain around).

It was hard work, sure, but the physical was not the most draining aspect of it. My discovery (without which I might not have bothered writing this post) was that the martial artists who surrounded me have martial-arts brains, with pathways that are already trained and receptive to new martial-arts knowledge. When they learn a new art (Krav Maga was foreign to most of them, and very different from their own arts), they have to “empty their cups”—to forget that they know how to, say, throw a kick—but their minds are tuned so that they can remember series of movements (more attuned to kinesthesia?) and visualize how the movements would interact with the real world. To put that in less abstract terms: when Ryan showed us a technique and had us practice it in front of the mirror the martial artists were able to replicate the technique immediately; my imitation of it was rudimentary until I had a chance to practice it on someone else. Then the movements clicked together and I could repeat them without a partner in front of the mirror (though my technique was still imperfect). At the end of each day, my body was tired, but my brain was fried.

Ryan’s seminar gave me not only concrete and specific training in a practical art, but it also gave me a better understanding of one of my weaknesses and a way to start eliminating it.

So: what—you might be wondering if you’ve read this far—about Krav Maga and criminal-defense trial lawyering? Ryan brought to CKM two related philosophical concepts: kadima and retsev. Kadima means “forward” or “charge”; the KM philosophy is not of retreat, but of forward pressure, attacking your attacker and continuing to attack him until his threat is neutralized. Every defense in KM includes an attack; you don’t block a punch without counterstriking. Retsev means continuous motion; when you’ve countered, you strike again, and again, and again—hands, elbows, knees, feet. One attack flows into another into another into another….

On further reflection, it’s nothing to do with criminal-defense trial lawyering. Move along. Nothing to be seen here.

13 responses to “Krav Maga and Me”

  1. Mark, Good notes and credit where credit is due, very well written. You are improving every class and I can definetly see a difference from when you started

  2. Albumarle Correctional, just outside of Charlotte, in North Carolina, has one of the best weight-lifting classes you could ever hope to attend. Situated in the yard behind H-Dorm, Big Tim and Snuffy set up my individual daily training regimen, and at week’s end, reviewed my progress and set up my new goals for the next week. Tuition was just a pack of Newports or $5 worth of canteen weekly. They started me off light, and within a few months, I was bench-pressing 90 pounds at 20 reps. Not only did I feel great, but the young punks that wanted to beat up the old white guy, noticed that I had some serious “guns” happening. Well, that plus Snuffy looming large behind me, protecting his customer and source of “Cadillacs”, made a difference, too. So, good luck with your positive behaviors! You might make parole yet! 🙂 Ric

  3. Thanks for the kind words. Your journey through the martial arts has been amazing thus far and I know it is only going to get better. As for the stick stuff it is very challenging to say the least. I hope you will never give up on your quest to reinvent yourself. Im just proud to have been a small part of it. Be safe and train hard.

  4. Really interesting, Mark, and I love your analogy at the end, and the way you’ve written it. You can really feel the motion. I hadn’t thought about the intellectual side of martial arts. And for some reason, when I reached the end of the post, I I found that ‘d been holding my breath. I’m not sure why. Kind of bizarre, huh?

  5. Robin and Ryan, thanks for being guides on this voyage.

    Ric, even for only a pack of Newports a month, I’m not quite ready to sign up for that particular fitness program.

    LG, were you waiting for the punchline that never came? “Then I busted my forty-year-old knee and had to give it all up”?

  6. Well done and well-written!

    Obvious to you (and others of us as we age) is that our bodies don;t recover quite as quickly as when we were 21. Thus, we tend to ingest far more aspirin now than we did at that age!

    On another note, as a martial-arts practitioner (Uechi-Ryu, Tae Kwon Do, Shotokan, and Tai Chi Chuan), I would take issue (and so might many Chinese teachers) with your statement that power of a strike comes from the hips. It is my belief that power starts in a correct stance – in the feet, your rooting) and progresses through your legs and hips.

    At any rate, I applaud your efforts and admire your stamina.

    • Thanks, Mickey.

      My joints regularly remind me of their existence in new and interesting ways, but I’m still in better shape overall than I was in 20 years ago.

      I’ll pay more attention to the flow of power from my feet.

    • As an instructor of the Chinese martial arts I would like to expand a little on where power comes from and how it is generated. The truth is power comes from the whole body moving as one harmonious unit. The legs form the foundation, not only do they help generate the power but like a launching pad they provide the structure so that all the other elements can generate power. Next the hips or core builds on this power and multiplies it exponentially as it is finally delivered to the opponent through the limbs. All of this is more beautifully explained by the principle of the “Six Harmonies” which is a theory explaining how power is generated common to most Chinese martial arts.

  7. From having worked alongside you in court recently I think you have been very effective in putting this strategy into use. You seem to counter each attack on your client with an attack of your own on the witness’ credibility followed by more and more of the same which somehow reaches the point of either demoralizing your opponent into admitting defeat or assuming such a ridiculously defensive position that anyone watching would be left with only one impression: liar. Very impressive. I hope I’m never in any trouble but if I am you will be the first person I call.

  8. I really like the analogy you make with being a strong attorney and the KM philosophy. How you need to keep up your defense while also attacking strong.

    • This looks like a typical barely-disguised spam comment under what I suspect is a pseudonym. I allowed it, however, because, entertainingly, “Guy Seymore” seems to have mistyped the URL he’s trying to hype.


  9. I’m happy to watch as my son fights other boys with swords. But I am getting lonely in the blawgosphere. So many have come and gone, and now the closest neighbors I have are rarely home.

    It’s lonely in this big house all by myself. Only Tannebaum left to play with, and English obviously isn’t his first language.

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