On September 30th I tested for my green belt and, as with most important things in life, while the test itself was only 3 hours, the culmination of events leading up to the test was far more involved.
Firstly, a bit of background on myself. I joined UTKM when the school first opened, and while I was just one of several students in the first class, I’m pretty sure that I’m now the only one from that day who is still taking Krav Maga with UTKM. It’s understandable because circumstances constantly change and life throws curve balls, and for whatever reason people move on. In my case I’m fortunate because I’m at the stage of life where it’s generally predictable, e.g. job, family, home, so I’ve been able to continue learning Krav Maga fairly consistently for the past few years.
In the beginning, I was diligently attending classes twice a week and attending the occasional seminar, took the yellow belt and orange belt tests within the first couple of years, and even earned my PAL license as a requirement for eventually taking the green belt test. However, as time passed and I was feeling more familiar with the curriculum and life became busy with the judo activities for both my daughter and myself, I cut back to just once a week. Then once a week became once every two weeks, and soon there were occasions in which I didn’t go to class for over a month. I had plateaued and I knew it. Interest was down, and I felt like I was just going through a rinse-repeat cycle in the classes. One instructor understood what I was going through and he advised me to “Finish the mission.”, i.e. get my green belt. Although the belt levels progress beyond green, attaining the green belt is a significant milestone because it meant that I had passed the physical and technical curriculum of Krav Maga and would then move into the more advanced strategies and techniques. There would be less emphasis on the physical requirements, and sparring would be optional and not mandatory. Still, I had lost motivation to progress and, truth be told, I was thinking of stopping altogether.
What finally made me start thinking about taking the green belt test was that I was noticing how many more yellow belt and orange belt tests were being scheduled. Soon the “yellow and orange belt class” started growing from just a couple of students to then a handful, and there were more frequent announcements of students progressing through the belt levels. On one hand I was realistic enough to know that my prime objective in taking Krav Maga was to learn how to protect myself and my family, so officially attaining the green belt didn’t mean much to me, but on the other hand I wanted to be recognized for my experience and the knowledge that I had acquired over the years. Another (scary) thought that crossed my mind was that I was getting older, and while age shouldn’t be an excuse for not being able to achieve anything, it is a reality that physical activity becomes more challenging with age. I turned 54 at the end of October, so the window of opportunity was starting to shrink and I knew that if I didn’t take the physically-challenging green belt test soon, it would likely never happen. Plus, Jon wouldn’t stop hassling me to get it, so I finally relented and scheduled a testing date.
I had 6 weeks to train for the test, and come hell or high water, I was going to be ready for it. Jon told me one time that one of his biggest annoyances is when people don’t follow through on what they say they’re going to do, so once I put out the date I was committed to meeting the challenge and not letting him down. Since I was already confident that I knew the techniques and the curriculum and would only require a refresher, I was aware that the physical requirement of the test would be the bigger challenge. The warm-up for the test is 75 push-ups, 85 sit-ups and a 2 km run, and that’s even before the technical part of the test begins. I usually commute to work by bike, and even though it’s only 6 km each way and it gives me a bit of a workout, I knew it wouldn’t be enough. I despise running so for me, it was a very big psychological barrier to hit the track and start training for the test. The first time I ran 5 times around the 400 meter track I was tired, but not exhausted, so I knew if I kept it up it would only get easier once the test day came. I also began doing push-ups and sit-ups at night, and while in the beginning, I couldn’t reach the required number, after a couple of weeks I was doing 90 push-ups and 90 sit-ups. I also began eating healthier and cut out the junk food, sugary drinks, snacks, and over-eating. The results began to show, and I dropped 6 lbs while I was training for the test.
My training regimen seemed to be going well, and then a snag happened. During a class another student puts my head in a guillotine choke and wrenched back on it, and after that my right arm started throbbing and hurting. This also meant that I couldn’t ride to work anymore so I was afraid that my cardio would drop like a rock. I went to a physio and he diagnosed that I had pulled a muscle in my neck which resulted in a pinched nerve in my arm, and that’s why I was feeling the pain. With only two weeks to go before the test, I started seeing the physio as often as I could to try and fix the problem. After 4 sessions I was still feeling pain, plus I wasn’t sleeping at night where I often wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until past 4 AM, but was still having to get up at 7 AM for work. The last week before the test I was still seeing the physio, and while the pain had somewhat abated, I knew I wasn’t going to be fully healthy come the testing day. Still, I diligently continued to keep up the push-ups and sit-ups regimen and also hit the track whenever I could. The main thing that kept me going was knowing that once I passed the test, I could stop training and wouldn’t have to run around the track anymore, hopefully for the rest of my life.
Test day came, and I did the push-ups, sit-ups and 2 km run with relative ease. However, in retrospect from watching the videos that my daughter took, it was apparent that my sit-ups suck and look more like crunches than full sit-ups. So one takeaway from the test is that I’m now going to do sit-ups on a regular basis and ensure that they’re proper full ones, instead of the sucky ones that Jon graciously allowed as acceptable on test day. What came as an unpleasant surprise was that going through the techniques took much longer, and tired me out much, much more, than I had expected. I thought I was going to whiz through those and get quickly to the sparring part of the test but Jon asked me on many occasions to repeat a technique again, and again. It became very tiring and by the time the sparring section came, I was both relieved because I knew we were getting to the end of the test, but also dreading it because I knew I didn’t have many physical reserves remaining. In short, I was very tired.
The last part of the test consists of sparring components which add up to 20 min, with a few minutes rest between each of the 3 sections. In regards to physical activity, one thing I noticed about getting older is that the recovery time takes much longer than when you are in your 20s. While a 20-something person may need only 3 minutes to recover from a strenuous physical activity, in your 50s you may not be able to recover to the same degree unless you had 10 minutes or more. Still, if that was the test requirement, I was determined to abide by the rules and not ask for any special allowances just because of my age.
The first component of the sparring was to fight 5 different opponents for 1 minute each, with body and leg shots only. At one point Jon tagged my daughter as one of my opponents, and unfortunately, my gross motor movements took over and I threw a couple of punches to her ribs that slightly winded her. She told me later that it got her angry so she started swinging back at me as hard as she could, while I regained my senses and purposely held back. Nothing like a good father-daughter brawl to strengthen the paternal relationship! I managed to survive with most of my limbs intact, however, the last round was with Jon and he kicked so *hard* that I still felt the after-effects of his kicks for days.
The next component of the sparring I knew would be my biggest challenge, and that was to survive 10 minutes of attack after attack after attack. It would be relentless and I knew that if I could get past it and have enough energy for the last component, I would be home free. For some reason, perhaps because I was already in a dream state since I was so tired and I was acting purely on adrenaline, I have no idea where the first 5 minutes went. All I remember was the countdown for 3 minutes left. However, I was so exhausted and physically drained by that time that whenever I was down on the ground, and people were shouting at me to get up, my body felt like a thousand pounds and I could hardly move. Jon told me after that he thought I was going to give up but in the end, I fought through the pain and struggled slowly to my feet while throwing feeble punches at my attacker. I remembered that Jon had told me that the purpose of that part of the test was not to demonstrate clean techniques but to survive. Keeping that thought in my mind, I was determined to survive while the clock counted down the last few seconds.
The last component of the sparring was to have 5 rounds of 1 minute each with each attacker. One minute went by, and then another, and I knew that I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. While I had zero energy left and nothing more to give, the thought that went through my head was that I was going to dig deep for additional reserves in the last couple of rounds and try to finish strong. It must have worked because my daughter told me after that I looked stronger in the last two rounds, and my last attacker also said he was surprised that I was still getting some punches through to him even though I was clearly exhausted. If this was a real-life scenario I still would have been beaten, but I would have had some solace in knowing that I was beaten by a stronger, more rested opponent, and it wouldn’t have been because I gave up and beat myself.
So that’s the story of my not-so-pretty journey to attain my green belt. I did it, and while I have no doubt that my fellow green belters, and future ones, will be more successful candidates, I faced my limitations honestly, gave no excuses, asked for no allowances, and did what was asked of me. And knowing that allows me to be content with myself and feel that yes, I earned it.
And in the end, I guess that’s what’s most important.