Be a Man: Martial Arts

In between dealing with pissy women at work, things going somewhat pear-shaped at home, and the bonkers weather we've been having up in the Northeast recently, it's not been easy to find time to write on the subject of manliness, but that has finally changed. I actually managed to get home at a reasonable hour for once and decided to spend the time doing some very long-overdue writing.

Very early on in the life of this blog, I posted on the subject of physical fitness as an essential component of the game. Going to the gym isn't just about being in shape or being strong. It is about mastery- the concept of having complete control over oneself and one's environment. However, there is more to physical fitness and strength than simply lifting really heavy weights- though I view weightlifting as the cornerstone of any physical fitness program, a truly well-rounded man will look to incorporate other facets of fitness into his daily routine.

One way to do so is to take up a form of martial arts. Inspired by a post from a chap named David over at RoK, I decided to start taking Krav Maga lessons about a month ago. And let me tell you, it's been one hell of a great experience thus far.

Learning Krav Maga

Krav Maga is Hebrew for "contact combat". This form of combat was forged in the crucible of war and the hell of direct street combat, and it has been maintained and refined by a people under constant siege. This has shaped it into a completely unique form of martial art, and if you've ever studied any other martial art like karate or tae-kwon-do, you will instantly realise why it is so very different from more stylised or passive combat forms. Unlike other forms of martial arts, Krav Maga is not about tag-fighting, peaceful resolution to conflict, style, elegance, or form. It is about effective and intelligent combat. End of story. That means that its singular focus is on injuring, crippling, and even killing your opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible while exposing you to minimal damage from counterattacks.

There are several consequences to this philosophy. First and foremost, sparring is basically impossible. If skilled Krav Maga practitioners were to engage in sparring, severe injuries or even death would result, which is why it cannot and will never be a competitive martial art form. Second, when you go for a Krav Maga class, you will be told, repeatedly and relentlessly, that the entire point of Krav Maga is to conduct intelligent combat. This does not mean that the biggest or strongest fighter wins- it means that the most tactically and strategically intelligent and aware fighter will win. The fighter who can combine speed, flexibility, situational awareness, and brutal efficiency the best into a chain of fast attacks is the one who will prevail.

When you learn Krav Maga, you will learn to target the weakest points of your opponent's body- no quarter given, no mercy shown. When I went for my very first lesson, I didn't know how to throw a proper punch. In that lesson, the instructor- this man, who studied under the progenitor of this form of combat during his early years and received his black belt from the Grand Master himself, Haim Zut- taught us how to punch, how to kick, and how to perform a combat roll. He also taught us how to break a choke-hold from behind- by slamming a fist into your opponent's groin, then by targeting his eyes or nose, then slamming him hard into the ground, and finally stomping hard on his head. The second lesson involved learning how to fall down without hurting yourself too badly. The third lesson, with a different instructor, consisted of learning how to break or prevent forward choke-holds by stabbing someone in the throat with your hand, or by combining a choke-break with a knee to the groin.

As you can imagine, this is not for the faint of heart. Do not take up Krav Maga if you don't like the idea of getting a bloody nose, being bruised, falling down, doing combat rolls, or punching and kicking other people. During that first lesson, in fact, Rhon Mizrachi- who is quite a lot shorter than me but who commands immense respect- actually gave me a nose-bleed when he demonstrated to me by way of painful personal example why the nose is a weak point on the body.

The consequences of learning Krav Maga are profound. Here is what I've learned so far- and bear in mind, I've been doing this for less than a month and I'm already hooked.
  1. Speed, not strength, is the key to victory. During that first lesson, Rhon Mizrachi came over and told me, to my face, that I am very strong. While this is objectively true, I cannot tell you how honoured I was to have one of the world's deadliest men tell me this. He also told me, however, that strength can be turned against itself, and that it is speed and accuracy that are the guarantors of victory. From that moment on, I concentrated on getting the form right instead of just trying to power my way through the techniques being taught.
  2. As with any other aspect of mastering oneself, practice is absolutely key. If you begin learning Krav Maga as a complete novice, you must commit to a minimum of one class a week. I'm looking to start doing two a week now.
  3. Following on from this, one of Rhon Mizrachi's comments to the class really stuck with me. The very first techniques that Imi Lichtenfield taught his first students were: punching, kicking, and combat rolls. With repeated practice comes confidence, strength, and speed. The point of the Krav Maga method of instruction is to drill you so hard and so frequently in the basics that the simple techniques just become muscle memory- so that when you are attacked from behind, you don't even waste time thinking, you immediately know how to break a choke-hold or defend against a side attack.
  4. While there is supposedly no general fitness requirement for learning Krav Maga, you had damn well better be in decent shape before you even start. The first 20-30 minutes of a Krav Maga lesson consists of intense warm-ups, punching, kicking, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, and jumping jacks. After your first lesson, your body will be screaming in agony because you will have used muscles and tendons that you didn't even know you possessed. After your third lesson, you'll realise that actually, it's not so bad- after that first 20 minutes, that is. You WILL walk out of a Krav Maga session absolutely drenched in sweat and utterly exhausted- if you don't, you're being a candy-ass. Krav Maga workouts are brutal, but damn are they good fun.
  5. Krav Maga is about respect as much as it is about aggression. In order to get the most out of your lessons, you must respect the training room, your training partner, and your instructor. Never forget that the lessons you are being taught are designed to save your life in the event that you ever find yourself in a street fight. Every single technique taught in the art is taught with the aim of crippling or killing your opponent. Forget this even for a second and you forget the very purpose of the art. In every lesson I've taken so far, this has been hammered home repeatedly. Krav Maga is brutal. It is efficient. It is lethal. So you must never underestimate or disrespect the power that it gives you.
  6. Yes, Krav Maga teaches you how to defend yourself from knife and gun attacks. Yes, if you get into a situation where a gun is produced, you are still statistically likely to lose. That doesn't make the art any less awesome or worthwhile.
  7. As David points out in his article, after a few weeks of Krav Maga, you're going to feel like Jason Bourne. Rhon Mizrachi pointed this out in that very first lesson:
After a few lessons here, you're going to think differently, you're going to carry yourself differently. You're going to walk around and you're going to look at guys on the streetg and you'll think to yourself, "yeah, I could take that guy". And someone on the street will see you looking at him and ask you, "whatcha lookin' at?!" And you'll reply, "I'm lookin' at YOU." 
Where and How to Take Krav Maga Lessons

Krav Maga lessons are not cheap, at least not where I take them. Each individual lesson is $30; a 6-month membership clocks in at $900.  But, trust me on this- they are worth every penny. If you find a good place to learn the art, with real professional instructors, you will learn very quickly how contact combat really works. Leave your preconceptions at the door- nothing can truly prepare you for the intensity of a Krav Maga workout.

If you're in the Tri-State Area, this link will put you in contact with some very good instructor-certified schools where you can start your journey towards being a true bad-ass.

If you don't live in a city with a heavy Jewish contingent, you may find it very difficult to get to a Krav Maga class. If you can't, look into taking Muay Thai or some form of mixed martial arts. While I have a lot of respect for karate and judo and other forms of sparring martial arts, direct contact combat forms are the best way to learn how to really defend yourself in real world situations.

Martial Arts and Game

Like any other aspect of self-improvement, martial arts builds self-confidence, strength, and power. As my instructor said in my last lesson, where I was practising roundhouse kicks and tagging my partner on his shirt, "I may not walk out of here confident that you can kick someone's ass, but I can be confident that you'll be able to touch someone on his shirt!". By the time you've gone through a few Krav Maga or other MMA lessons, you'll realise that you are strong, that you are alive, and that very little in this world can truly intimidate you unless you let it.

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