Archive for the ‘Krav Maga and Other Martial Arts’ Category

Over the last few days, myself and 3 of my students including 1 of my assistant instructors went down to Petaluma, California to take part in the first ever International Kapap Federation (IKF) in America. It was lead by the head instructor of the IKF Amit Himelstein. You may remember him from the last major Warriors Den podcast.

Before moving forward I should clarify that KAPAP is teg cousin of Krav Maga historically although nowadays it is essentially the same thing. For some, it is a distinction of great significance but for others it’s is not.

For Amit, the difference is far less important than providing quality and up to date training. Amit started his martial arts Journey early like many with Karate. He served in the IDF special forces after which he moved to China and studied Kung Fu, Sanshou and Shuai Jiao. He is also an expert in wrestling and modified Jiujitsu under the Machado lineage. Additionally, he has spent time training and developing CQB protocol in the IDF where he continues to regularly teach.

The course it’s self though only 4 days was one of the more intense courses I have taken so far as Amit does not just expect you to know his protocol and techniques but also show your ability to perform physically and mentally.

Days often started with 1-2 hour warm-ups. This may have been general warmups, pad work, body weight exercises or basic tumbling and gymnastics drills.

The range of techniques covered during this time covers all the standard self-defense scenarios from grabs and chokes to third party scenarios. Each day would range between 8-10 hours with a lunch break.

Amit and the IKF’s approach is simple to give you a series of progressive moves for each scenario from a simple escape to a more complex option should the first one fail. Because yes, techniques can and do fail for a variety of reasons. In order to keep it simple their approach sticks to a simple protocol that can be followed in most situations.

For myself, the only complicated part was overriding my muscle memory from the various other styles of Krav Maga I have learned which at the beginning often led to delay but in the end, under stress proved no problem. This shows that the IKFs and Amits approach really is simple and easy to learn.

One thing I will say about the IKF style is that it is much more security, police and military approach with a heavy emphasis on control and arrest. Though all the techniques and approaches showed would work just fine for civilian application through their emphasis should be more on escape and evade.

If you are a security professional or LE and you have limited time and resources to train I highly recommend the IKF course as a must to supplement any training you might already have. It is an affordable course with a wealth of information that will help you stay safe and keep others safe.

As this was the first US course there were many participants from all over the country and of course Canada. In total there was 14 of as and from what I can tell except for some bruises, cuts and my Cauliflower ear we all had a blast.

(If you are squeamish then this video is not for you)

If you do think that this certification is a walk in the park it is as not everyone passes as you must not only show a good command of the IKF style but also an ability to physically and verbally control others. To me, there is nothing more disappointing than an instructor course where everyone passes for just showing up even though it is clear that they shouldn’t be certified. This is, by the way, a big problem in North America as there are so many Krav instructors who class’ look more like a cardio kickboxing class than something that is seriously preparing students for conflict both physically and mentally.

For me, Amit is probably one of the best instructors I have so far trained under. Not to disrespect to the others I have trained with because they all have amazing credentials and back rounds but I found Amit to be the most well rounded not just in skill which is terrifying but in experience and temperament. Amit is humble and is in it for the right reason he clearly loves training and teaching and is not just in it for the money but rather to build something greater than himself. On this course, I didn’t just find a certifying instructor but also a brother.

The UTKM squad after testing and certification. From left to right: Petra Foerster, Jonathan Fader, Amit Himelstein, Jeff Dyble, Oliver M.

I am also pleased to say that all 4 of us from UTKM passed with little trouble and now at the time of this article are the only school in Western Canada with certified IKF Instructors. On top of this everyone seemed to be in pressed with the quality of my students who couldn’t have made me prouder.

This trip also turned out to be a great bonding experience with my students and because of it, there will be some very positive changes to come at UTKM.

So for those who want authentic Israeli style training that is the most current and up to date in relation to what the IDF is doing and is also affordable then IKF is the place for you. Don’t get me wrong I still believe in training with everyone but as most individuals are not me and don’t want to travel a lot and spend a lot of money to train. The IKF is an amazing place to start.

So get up, get training and learn to walk on peace both physically and mentally.

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On April 27th, just before 11:30 am at the end of the Jewish holiday of Pesach, a gunman entered, Chabad of Poway the place of worship and began to open fire.

Then on Tue, April 30th, a shooter enters UMS Charlotte (A university) and opened fire with a handgun.

In both cases, the shooters were misled by hate and prejudice.

In the first case, only one person was killed, in the second only 2. Generally accepted US government standards say it is a mass shooting when 4 people or more have been killed. Though both cases are tragic events, the combined death of both is less than this. (It should be noted that over the years this number seems to keep getting lower).

Compare this to other high profile US shootings like the highly publicized Stoneman Douglas Highschool shooting where 17 people died, or the Orlando Night Club Shooting where 49 people died.

thumb_keep-calm-and-1-stop-the-threat-2-counter-attack-as-37629368So what is the difference between 1 or 2 deaths and 17 or 49 deaths? The answer is simple, in the first 2 examples brave individuals quickly and bravely stood up to the shooters.

Though it is often counterintuitive especially to the untrained, if you are able to and you wish to stop further harm or death then the answer is to run to the threat not away. You see, waiting for the police can take some time and in the time a lot can happen. In Metro Vancouver, the call time is usually somewhere between 5-7 minutes for most serious calls. I was once told in Washington state that the call time can be 20-30 minutes. No matter the call time however, if a police officer is not there with a gun shooting back immediately a lot of people can die.

In the Chabad shooting, the rabbi stood up to the shooter with words in a way only rabbi’s can do and another took the bullet for him. Then the gun jammed and it is my understanding that someone charged him which started the shooter and he ran outside. Another person, who was armed, an off duty LE shot and the assailant until he gave up.

In the second UMS shooting a courageous young man by the name of Riley Howard charged the shooter died in the process but this allowed everyone else to be saved.

The specific details of both are a bit hard to follow as the accounts vary from site to site, but the fact is in both cases when the opportunity arose, someone did the bravest thing they could and confronted the shooter.

Believe it or not, this is the Israeli way. This is also what we teach in Krav Maga. If you are unable to or unwilling to stand up to terror or tryany then get to safety. No one is saying be the hero. But if you have it in you and you are willing at the moment to know that the faster the threat is stopped the more lives will be saved.

I often tell students that Israel most likely would get very different results if they studied the bystander effect. For one something happens, you get two groups of people, those running away, and those running towards. Because they know the more people that are able to stop the threat the faster the threat will be stopped. I even have family that on one occasion noticed odd behavior of someone who entered the store they were in. They tackled him and this saved everyone. For you see he had a suicide vest on and had yet to activate it.

In the west, we often have policies in place that tell people to lock the doors close the windows and hide as best as you can. While in some cases this may save lives the reality is if you are able to get out of the building to safety by whatever means necessary then your odds are even better than simply waiting and hoping.

Duck and Cover

Duck and cover practice

Bullets and bombs go through walls and doors. But smashing a window to run home will most likely get you out of harm’s way. Such policies remind me of the cold war when students were told to duck under their desks in case of a nuclear bomb. We now know this is clearly laughable yet why do we still insist on such an approach to dangerous situations.

 

These policies, by the way, are usually for the administrative class. It is easier for those arriving on seen to know who is “the good guys” and “bad guys” it is also easier to count heads. The heads of the dead and the heads of the alive.

In the west, our views on how to deal with these situations seem to be out of touch with reality. If you are unable or unwilling to stop the threat then get away to safety. But if you are able and willing, just know the faster you stop the threat the more lives will be saved.

In the end, the motives of those who would use violence for their own ends is less important in the moment than the fact they are doing it. The why only matters to prevent people from doing it in the future, in the moment the why is quite irrelevant. If one morning someone wakes up and decided to do something hideous, if there were no indicators that they were going to do it then the why is even much less important because the only thing that will prevent tragedy or reduce the tragedy is that in the moment someone had the courage to stand up and stop the threat.

So come, learn Krav Maga, so that you may walk in peace knowing that you have the skill and ability to stop the threats that may enter your life whether you want them to or not.

 

Before my wife and I had children, learning self-defence and being able to protect myself was a personal decision not shared by my wife.  Her philosophy was to never put yourself in risky situations to begin with and if faced with a threat, just run away.  It’s a simplistic way to look at things, but ok, fair enough if that gives her enough peace of mind.  For myself, however, I like to live in a Walter Mitty world where getting myself out of a tight situation using my self-defence training was a real possibility so I signed up for various martial arts through my life, with Krav Maga being on the list.

good parenting quote 1Then, our two daughters were born and I began to look at life a little differently.  I became less inwardly focussed on my self-preservation and my priority turned to how can I best protect my daughters that the brutality of life sometimes presents?  In spite of my desire to want to be around to always protect them, I knew that it was not only impractical but harmful to their own development and road to independence.  As any parent soon realizes as their children grow up, they have their own hopes, dreams, and way of doing things.  In the early days, you can just tell them what to do and they’ll listen, but after too early an age they soon start talking back and want to do things their way.  The best you can do is just introduce them to positive experiences and hope that your examples resonate with them enough that it sparks an interest in them to continue.

In my case, I introduced our two girls to the dojo quite early in their lives, and the Krav Maga kids class was their first foray into the martial arts world.  For my older daughter, the concept of self-protection was so impactful that she then asked if she could take judo to supplement the ground game that is more lacking in Krav Maga.  It turned out to be a good decision on her part, because she soon became quite adept at it and a natural talent that she won many competitions and continues being involved in the sport to this day.  So for her, introducing her to martial arts has been very beneficial for her overall development.  Conversely, however, it hasn’t quite been the same for the other daughter, who is 4 years younger.  While she accompanied us to the BC Winter Games when the older daughter was competing, while I was cheering her on, my younger daughter (9 at the time) was patiently and quietly sitting beside me knitting, reading, or working on her colouring book.  She sat there the entire day, which I recall being 9 hours long, with no complaints at all. But was she interested in martial arts and watching her sister compete?  Not at all.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this.  Well, as a parent we try to do the best for our children, and in spite of our best intentions, we can only do so much.  However, as long as we act as good role models and do what we say we will, our children notice and hopefully, with all the things we throw at the wall, some of it will actually stick.  In my older daughter’s case, even though she hasn’t taken Krav Maga for quite a while now there’s a recent experience which I think is worth telling.  The other week my wife and I took them out for ice cream, and on the walk back up the block to where we parked the car, our older daughter was walking far, far ahead.  Our younger daughter then started running towards her, hoping to surprise her and possibly give her a little scare.  In the end, it turns out that my older daughter sensed that someone was running up behind her, and while having no idea that it was her sister, turned to face the threat while sub-consciously adopting the semi-passive stance.  It’s comforting to know that some good habits are still ingrained.

And for the not-at-all-interested-in-martial-arts-daughter?  It turns out that last year she introduced the “head-touching game” to her classmates, which is a warm-up game she learned years ago in the Krav Maga class.  While its main purpose is to teach the student situational awareness and being able to block a slap to the head, it’s presented as a fun activity.  Now the kids she introduced it to last year spread it to other kids, and now they’ve adopted it as one of the activities they play at recess and lunch.  Unfortunately, my daughter was last tagged as “it” so she now needs to pass it on to someone else.  And the first thing I said to her when she told me that was, “You need to develop your situational awareness better”.  To which she nodded and agreed.

So, there’s still hope for the rest of us.

If you have not already figured it out from the title this post was inspired by The Game of Thrones episode 3, Season 8. At this point, it should be an obvious Spoiler alert but you know what it has been more than two weeks so if you are a GOT fan, to damn bad, you should have seen it already. In particular its this scene and quote that inspired it.

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In the scene, the red priestess, Melisandre is in a room that Arya Stark and company (The hound) barricaded themselves in to hide from the Wights (Undead soldiers of the night king). Melisandre has a habit of mostly correctly predicting the future and it is clear to Arya that she had predicted certain things in her life security. This advice is a foreshadow for a following scene where Arya is the one who kills the Night King.

To me, the entire episode and this scene reminded me of the nature of self-defense. So let’s get some context or a reminder of the episode.

The entire episode was a lesson on how not to plan for battle as basically everything went wrong. A large portion of the defending army got wiped out cleanly in the first 5 minutes of battle. (I bet if Genghis Khan was leading the battle this would not have happened to the horde) and every line of defense was inevitably overwhelmed to the point of futile efforts. I won’t get into the details of what I didn’t like about this episode or battle (The battle of the bastards was a far better episode in almost all ways) but this feeling of absolute dread and futility might be what you feel should you ever find yourself in a self-defense scenario.

Let’s start in the Macro. In the days when wars were fought out of survival or necessity often it only takes one person who is brave enough, bold enough and crazy enough to do something so unpredictable it changes the tide of war. If you look into any of Israels earlier wars where they were literally fighting for existance you can find tones of such stories in every battle. In this case, that crazy person was Arya whos training and skill finally paid off. Though how she snuck up on the night king with everyone surrounding him is beyond me but ok…

Now let’s take it to the micro. Where you have now been attacked, overwhelmed and you feel helpless and weak. Survival means doing something so crazy, so bold that it is completely unexpected by your assailant. All you have to do really is fight back, fight hard, fight to win and destroy them in the process so you can stop them as a threat and get to safety.

You see as overwhelming as being attacked can be I can most certainly guarantee they attacked because they thought you were not a real threat. For when people see you as a real threat those who are smart will rarely attack head-on. Predators attack the weak, both in nature and in the human world. Those who can fight back, or are perceived as having the ability to fight back are less likely to be attacked.

Krav Maga teaches you to turn the tables on your opponent using pure raw aggression in a controlled and strategic fashion in order to disrupt your opponent’s ability to continue their attack. Then you either escape to safety or you finish them off as needed.

To me, this is what this long-awaited episode of GOT symbolized. The spirit of the warrior defending themselves to win against all odds. The spirit it takes to defend your self when all seems lost. The spirit to know that if you do give up all is lost so you must keep fighting until there is nothing left but the victor.

This is what it means to learn to defend your self either in war or in a simple mugging gone wrong. The weak shall prevail over the strong because they were never really weak in the first place.

So train hard, train smart, overcome your fears and you too can defeat your night king (Demons).

P.S. I hope you never have to use such skills in self-defense but if you do channel your inner Arya and not your inner Jon Snow…

Every month I get a new student who tells me they aren’t in great shape and they might not be able to do the class. I usually just tell them to try it out and see how it goes. Over the years I can only think of a handful of people who actually had to re-think their ability to take the class. For most people simply underestimate their ability to perform physical activities. I have heard reasons from, I have never done this before, too, I am too old. In most cases its all in their heads. The truth is most people are not athletic superstars and probably never will be but they still can train. I know this because I myself have never been a standout when it comes to athleticism. I have written in the past about my struggles in the military physically because I am not athletic. I can do what I do because I train, and get better day by day to in spite of my non-athletic prowess. Did I mention I also enjoy training?

Judo Jack 92 year old

92 year old doing Judo

I suspect the reason so many people think they cant train is partially due to our lazy desk ridden culture where lack of activity is common and where people really do not know what they are capable of. In a city like Vancouver which is a little more active than normal, it means that most people who walk in to do a martial arts class will be just fine.

Even if you are out of breath in the first 5 minutes if you ended up finishing the class you are more than able to continue training. Keep in mind, even the regular students often find themselves out of breath and know sometimes it’s ok to take a break. This means you are probably better off than you realize.

Another reason people often think they are physically capable of training martial arts is that in today’s world of easy access everything people are not often used to pushing themselves past their comfort zones. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

I did mention that over the years there have been a handful of people who couldn’t continue. Almost all of the cases these individuals were severely overweight if not morbidly obese. Unlike many others I won’t sugar coat it, this not a healthy or happy way to live no matter what anyone tells you. This does not mean however you cannot train martial arts it just means your approach will be a little different. In these cases, you have a few options.

  1. Show up to class and do what you can little by little and you will eventually get there even if it takes months or years. It’s absolutely ok if you need to sit out or take breaks. Showing up and training is better than not.
  2. Know that you have the goal of training martial arts, consult a nutritionist and find a suitable workout program to go with a healthy eating style so that you can achieve a healthier weight that will allow you to train martial arts.

Either way, if your goal is to train martial arts then you can do it, even if you have to reach a separate goal prior to training. If this is the case you will have a happier time after knowing you achieved multiple goals.

So no matter your age, skills or background so long as you live a healthier lifestyle, or want to change to a healthier lifestyle and have reasonable mobility you should have no reason to think you cannot train. So get on google, find a style you like, and get training.

After all, everyone deserves to walk in peace.

 

I have a feeling this post is going to have many cliche’s. As much as we like to hate on cliches because they are unoriginal, they have much truth to them. They are cliches because they are the things we know but choose to ignore because we are a curious species always pursuit of more. And besides who likes being given the answers directly? According to psychology, no one. People generally prefer to be guided to find their own conclusion rather than be given the obvious answer. As an instructor, it is a difficult thing to swallow and yet its how we operate. As I grow older I seem to be letting people find their own path a little more and I hope one day to have the wisdom to know right away who will learn how.

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On my path to find that wisdom I am re-listening (Yes, I do audio books, so much more efficient) to the Jocko Willink‘s book The Dichotomy of Leadership, the best selling sequel to his original book Extreme ownership. The second book as far better than the first as it clarifies somethings from the first one, but dont believe me even Jocko thinks its better.

As they say if at first you dont succeed, try, try again. Or if you make a mistake it’s ok, just learn from it and do better next time. See Cliches.

Anyways, back to my point. In listening to the book again a line stuck out at me. Since it was an audiobook and I can’t remember the time stamp I am going to paraphrase.

It goes something like this, People often want to learn the advanced tactics over building solid fundamentals. 

This is something I have seen many times, especially in the Krav Maga world. I am fairly sure I have written about this before but since it came up again I guess its time to write about it again.

Krav Maga is known for its firearms and knife related self-defense. These are the things people always want to learn, yet they are not the fundamentals no matter who sells it to you.

Occasionally I will get a student who has a previous Krav Maga or Martial arts background. The question is often, when do I get to do the weapons stuff. Or the stuff I saw online? I usually ask them about their background first and go from there.

If you are from another background, dont you think you should take some Krav Maga classes first to get to know what’s different between the styles? Also just because you saw something online dont presume to understand Krav Maga without actually practicing it. First, unless you have been training for 10+ years it is unlikely you are as good as you think you are. Second I dont go to other martial arts and expect to start anywhere other than the beginning. If you want to take regular classes then do so, if not I suggest private lessons, though I am picky who I teach what.

If you are from a Krav Maga background then I hope you can understand that not all Krav Maga curriculum is the same. Many people don’t know this because they dont usually train outside of one or maybe two organizations. If you did you would know what I teach at UTKM is an amalgamation of different organizations curriculums simplified to be more efficient. Which means no matter your Krav Background if you want to rank up under me then you have to learn the UTKM way. Of course if after assessment it turns out you are as good as you think you are in Krav then I will gladly reduce your hours between each rank. But you still need to understand how UTKM works first.

Either way, the scenario is the same. They dont want to spend time working on the basics. The basics you must remember are the foundations of everything. To me, if you can barely punch, kick, move or fight the gun disarms are not as easy as you might think. You must be sure of your foundations less you regret it later.

Speaking from personal experience learning BJJ I can say not learning and mastering fundamentals early is something you will regret later. In my earlier belts, White and Blue, I jumped around gyms, did open mats and had little structure to my training. I was also injured at blue belt which meant limited training. All these things meant I missed out on developing solid fundamentals, as such now at purple belt I am struggling to catch up to those at the same rank. Don’t get me wrong I fully intend to catch up and train more but its something I could have easily done in the past had I trained properly and focused on the fundamentals.

So, fundamentals are important even if you dont think so. No matter your experience or background when you walk into a new place respect their fundamentals. If you don’t like it then go somewhere else if you do then train and do so humbly.

Another cliche is to lead by example. So I will give you an example. Recently the local Krav Maga Global club held an open seminar for group fighting and multiple attacks. The Instructor was GIT Expert 2 Natasha Hirschfeld who was a wonderful instructor. Both she and the other instructors noted that there were so many new students they were most likely going to start with simple Krav basics. They seemed apologetic but it didn’t matter to me, for when you teach a lot sometimes you dont train as much as you should. Though I couldn’t stay for the whole time I enjoyed reviewing some basics. I even picked up a new warm-up game or two.

You see if you go in with an open mind even if you are practicing the fundamentals you will always learn something new if not simply move your way closer to the 10000-hour mastery principle.

There is a reason that in most martial arts even ones where a black belt takes 8-15 years to get on average that they also say the same thing. That they started to learn more at black belt than they did in all the training before. I think this is because they finally mastered the basics they can see other things they missed before.

The basics like any skill take a lifetime to master in any style yet they are what matter the most. Especially in Krav Maga as its the basics that will most likely save your life should you ever find yourself in an unwanted violent conflict.

So if you regularly train, or are coming to train, respect the basics and practice them until you achieve mastery no matter how long it takes.

 

 

Assuming you watched the video and have trained or taught this scenario may be all too familiar.

For some, it is a very easy thing to understand and for other very difficult, in Krav Maga it is even more so problematic than in other styles due to its inherent aggressive nature.

When someone is looking for a new style often people will look for the best person with the most championships, most titles or medals. In some cases, this is certainly warranted as they may very well be the best not only in practice but also in teaching. But the truth is sometimes the best instructors are not at all the most winningest of all.

In boxing, for example, Freddie Roach, widely regarded as one of the best boxing coaches was actually a mediocre boxer (though still a very impressive record). Mike Tyson was one of the best, if not the best, boxers of all time. One of these individuals produced many great boxers and one was just a great boxer. It is likely that in any style you can find examples of both types of individuals.

If I was a student wanting to learn, while it can be tempting to search out for the winningest person the reality is I would much rather find someone that I connect with and whom weather is better than me or not can help me be the best version of myself that I can be. In Jiu Jitsu, for example, I have trained with many champions but there are many that I don’t really want to learn from because I just don’t click with them. There are of course other that even if I don’t connect with personally still are incredibly beneficial to my development. Then, there are those whom with I both connect with and can learn from. The latter is, of course, the ones who I will train with more often when time and other factors permit.

Enter Krav Maga. There are no competitions. Not only this Krav Maga is known to be an aggressive style that beats the crap out of people and can be very intimidating to start for some. So how do you know who is good to train with or not? Do you simply challenge them to a fight? The answer is NO!

Trust me, if you do this, even if you can beat the instructor in a fight it will not impress them. Personally, I have had many students walk in the door that it is likely they could beat me in a fight. They are faster than me, fitter than me, more athletic than me and may have more training years in another style than me. Yet the good ones stay and learn because I have something to teach them just as it is likely they have something to teach me.

As the video points out, in the event of someone really resisting the truth is as the instructor you can simply go passive, you can hurt them, or worse both individuals get hurt. If a student who is 200+lbs 6 foot plus wants to challenge me for real as an example I am in big trouble. I am only 5 foot 6 and about 160lbs so I would be on the losing end of physics. If I cant quickly stop them with a strike that would be considered illegal in most sports fighting the outcome of such a fight is not very hard to predict.

So why learn from someone who you can beat? Simple. If it wasn’t already clear, they may be the person who can make you not only better in your style but also a better person. In the end, shouldn’t that be the main goal of any form of training?

I think so.

If you think always going balls to the walls crazy because that’s what you like, or that’s what you think Krav Maga is then you won’t have to wait long until no one wants to play with you. Either because you have injured all your training partners or you simply have an over-aggressive, overcompensating shitty attitude.

FACT: Nobody likes such a person.

Then there is the simple thing that one of the founding principles of Krav Maga is to Avoid Injury. Which applies both to yourself, your instructor, your training partners and using only the required force to stop any given threat.

So how do you know who to train under, and how to behave when you are training with your partners? For the former its a simple matter of trying different places out and seeing what you like. For the latter, if the environment of the gym is good your training partners will be open and communicative and will always let you know if there is an issue.

No matter what the case is for you, please leave your ego at the door. As Bruce Lee famously said:

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Belts: What are they good for?

Posted: January 15, 2019 by Jonathan Fader in Krav Maga and Other Martial Arts
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The subject of belts and ranking is like so many things a complicated thing because though they are supposed to be straight forward they can mean different things to different people. In Krav Maga, it is no different. There are those who follow the original belt system developed originally for Judo, like us. There are those who follow the Patch system originally developed in the great split of the 90s when IKMF was formed. There are those who say there should be no ranking cuz it does not matter on the street. And there are those who came from a different martial arts background and simply took the ranking system for that and used it for Krav Maga.

Let’s Start at the beginning. Originally there was simply student and master and some way to indicate the difference other than skill. Then as martial arts started to popularize and become more about sport and less about life or death there needed to be a way to track progress and differentiate both skill and time at practice. At some point in the late 20s or 30s Judo’s founder created more or less the modern belt system. And that was that. From there on almost every martial arts style adopted some form of the progressive ranking system using colored belts or sashes. In a lot of styles each colour represents something other than the physical, it others it simply means the next stage.

Back to Krav Maga. If you have read into UTKM a little more you would know when we developed our curriculum we stuck with the traditional belt system as we believe to the lamen it is easier to understand than the patch system. The patch system was developed to appeal to the more military oriented nature of Krav Maga but to most people trying to explain this system can be a bit annoying. But everyone understands what a white or brown or black belt is. So in following Krav Magas original nature, we decided to keep it simple. Additionally, if Krav Maga is simple then we shouldn’t need so many levels to get through the curriculum. Advanced progress can simply be marked by Dans anyways, which are more an indication of continued progress, skill and dedication than anything else.

To the people who say there shouldn’t be ranks, I would say that they really dont understand humans. People who say this usually come from a special forces background and are already physically, and potentially mentally stronger than most people. They may find themselves in a new school and doing far better than average. Thus, due to ego, they feel they deserve more. But they are forgetting that ranks are far more than just skill. They are right though. There are no belts on the street (unless you are wearing one and use it as a weapon of the opportunity of course!) but this is a two-way street. Being a high rank doesn’t matter if you are overwhelmed and being a low rank doesn’t matter if you escape to safety. But humans are funny creatures and we like to measure everything, including our progress. We also like to compare to other people of similar ranks. We are social creatures and thus we crave a system with earnable measurable progression in relation to those around us.

To the last group of people who teach Krav Maga but use some other or random ranking system you are either being disrespectful or care more about business than the actual style, you are teaching. Just my 2 cents and I’ll leave it at that.

So, Belts. What are they even good for?

The obvious has already been stated; Measurable progression. But what does that even mean? One thing to consider is one of UTKMS main goals, to produce people, not belts. People are the product of a school, not their ranks. A belt usually indicates both the completion of minimum time and practical requirements accompanied by an acceptable demonstration of skill for the level in question.

For example, did they show the required attendance or attitude? Did they show the required skills? Did they pass the test? In some systems, it’s simply a matter of going through the motions. In others like ours, we expect you to be able to show us you can really defend yourself while tired and at each level adding the additional skills you have learned at each new level.

Simple, yes? well no. I could have 2 yellow belts, that both passed the test but one is clearly better than the other. This should not discourage anyone, rather show an individual that there are those bigger stronger and faster and that for them the best self-defense is avoidance knowing there are such people out there. Unfortunately, due to our nature, this often discourages people.

In styles with competitions this certainly can be very discouraging but in Krav Maga, it should not. The difference without the sports aspect, the only reason you should be wanting to progress is for yourself. Though really, this sentiment should be applied to all styles. So if you are stuck at a certain rank for a long time all it means is show up more and train harder.

The reality is, self-defense is for your self. It is so that you know what you are capable of in any given situation and you have the confidence to do something should the need arise.

At UTKM we break the skills up based on rank. Beginner is the white belts. Novice is yellow and orange, and advanced is green and up.

When it comes to Krav Maga everyone always wants to lean the fancy stuff which is what a lot of Israeli Instructors focus on. But again, if you are not special forces then you are not a naturally gifted individual physically and mentally and we need to build you up properly so that you don’t hurt your self overestimating your ability.

This is why I believe in ranks. To let you know where you are at so that you dont get overwhelmed in conflict and focus more on the avoidance and situational awareness.

If you can barely punch or kick, then learning to do gun disarms (though easy from a technical standpoint) may just be dangerous. I know you imagine yourself the next John Wick or Hit Girl (Links contain Violence and language) but being delusional is just plain dangerous. I know it hurts your ego to hear this but when it comes to self-defense and your life, there is no room for such things. If you want to learn the cool stuff then put in the time, show us you can do it and you too can learn.

But I want to feel I progressed now!

7 ranks, as a basic, should seem like enough? Or is it too much? BJJ only has 5 ranks. Yet BJJ is quickly becoming one of the more popular styles globally. One thing they understood, is that people are impatient and want to see marked progress now. So they added 4 additionally tape stripes per rank, and even more for the kids. Unlike the days of old where progress meant surviving a life or death battle today just means feeling useful, and happy with a sense of purpose. Before our purpose was just trying to survive. But now our purpose may mean getting to the next rank in a given style. The thing is people are more and more impatient no thanks to social media.

Enter the stripe or half progression. Now people seem to expect progression from JUST showing up. If I show up I will get another stripe. Thus it feeds our ego and our need for acceptance among other things. Yet going this way often dilutes the style. Fortunately, BJJ is still holding strong but there are concerns that standards will fall if ranks are given out too often and too easily. But does it even matter if it’s not about life or death? I think it does still at least.

For Krav Maga, it still is about life or death, survival and much more. There really is no room for ego. Yet if many schools want to survive they need to give the people what they want? right? Well no. If you as a Krav Maga school do your best to remind people why they are leanrning then it should be less about their next rank and more about how they feel about their own progress.

Are they better today than they were yesterday? Delayed gratification goes a long way especially if you ever need to use Krav in a real-life scenario.

I know you want your next rank, I do too (in BJJ) but I care less about the rank now and more about getting better and so should you.

A rank, a belt, a stripe is simply a milestone in a journey. It is not always about skill, but it is definitely about time and attitude.

If you feel you deserved the next rank but haven’t gotten it just stick to it, remind yourself why you started in the first place. In Krav, the reasons are often a little more than just I always wanted to do it, or I just want to do something fun while getting in shape. Often it is things like, I was assaulted, My house was broken into or I was bullied. If those are any of the reasons you came to Krav then the rank doesn’t matter at all.

So remember, no matter what rank you are. It’s about building people ( yourself) not just about getting another belt color or stripe. Check your ego at the door, and just keep training and like everything in time, your next rank will come.

Editors Note: Judo is just one Martial Art that can be practiced well into the late ages. You could just as easily replace the term Judo with BJJ, Wing Chung, Tai Chi or even Krav Maga. When Reading this article do not fixate on the fact it is originally talking about Judo but that it is possible to practice many martial arts well into your later years.

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A screencap from Judo After 40

The other day I became aware of a YouTube video titled “Judo after 40”.  It’s a 10-minute long video that captures the thoughts of the head instructor of the Kamloops Judo Club, who is a 7th-degree black belt, along with one of Canada’s top female judokas who just turned 40.  They were discussing how it’s possible to continue practicing judo well into your 70s, 80s, and 90s, as long as you make some adjustments along the way to compensate for the changes in your body as you age.

What caught my attention is that they used the age of 40 to delineate the age at which people would traditionally determine is the difference between being “strong and healthy” and “over the hill”.  Personally, I would rather not have any delineation be made, especially regarding age, and instead talk about how you need to make adjustments to your training as you age, regardless of whether or not you’re still competing.  I’m not sure about other martial arts and their competitions, but in judo, you can continue to compete as long as your body allows you.  Judokas in their 50s can still compete in randori (sparring) in tournaments and if that’s too hard on their body, they can compete in kata (forms), well into their 60s and older.

Watching the video prompted me to think about what I would tell someone who asked me if they could still take up judo as an adult and progress to eventually attain a black belt.  I would respond “Absolutely”, and would encourage them to do so if that’s what their goal is.  From past blogs I’ve written, you may already be aware that I went back into judo after a 30-year break at the age of 51, having stopped when I was 19 at a blue belt level and was graded to a black belt in December 2018 at the age of 55.  So yes, it can be done, and trust me, I’m nobody special.

As I went through my journey to get my black belt, many things became apparent to me.  As an adult, it’s a very different journey than if you were a teenager.  As a youth competitor you’re full of energy, aggression, and drive, so if you compete and ride the wave with your fellow students, you’ll be able to get your black belt before you’re 20.  It will also be well-earned and well-deserved because you’ll have been promoted based on your performance at tournaments and how you rank amongst your peers. As an adult, however, it’s a very different experience.  You may compete in the odd tournament if you like, but in general, your journey is one of learning more about yourself and you’re also mature enough to know that the only person you’re in competition with is yourself.  It becomes a personal challenge to progress because you want to prove to yourself that you can do it.

When I received my black belt and people were offering their congratulations, my usual response was that it took me so long.  And then I was surprised at how similar the message was from most people, that it didn’t matter how long it took because the important thing was that I didn’t give up.  When I heard that response after the 3rd time it started to sink into my head that persevering and not giving up was what people were noting and respecting and that as a result, I was able to achieve my goal.  Nobody cared how long it took except for me.  I’ve seen a video of a disabled person who had no legs and he eventually received his black belt in judo.  How was this possible?  It’s because he demonstrated to everyone that he wouldn’t let his disability be an obstacle in his quest and that he had the grit, the spirit, and the determination to not give up.  He exhibited the higher-level character traits that a black belt in judo should have, almost more so than knowing the techniques themselves.

If you’re older like I am, you may remember a TV show from the 70s called “Kung Fu”, where the student Caine had to try and grab a pebble from his master’s hand.  Once he was able to, then it was time for him to leave the Shaolin Temple.  It’s similar to what it’s like when you know you’re ready for your black belt.  In a sense, you don’t care anymore.  Yes, you still want it, but because you feel you’re “there” and you’ve earned it, then the formality of the belt being awarded becomes a lower priority.  It’s truly the epitome of the journey being more important than the destination.

I used to think that to earn a black belt it meant that you needed to be an expert in all the techniques and that your skill level was very high.  Yes, I know more techniques than the lower belts, but that’s not what matters, and I am certainly not an expert in all the techniques.  As a black belt in judo, you have a responsibility to ensure that you’re passing on knowledge and direction to the lower belts and to set an example by being humble, gracious, and free of arrogance.  If you have the wrong attitude and you don’t personify the traits that a black belt should demonstrate, then you will not be awarded it no matter how strong your technique is.  Brown belts with enough points to be graded to black, who do not display the qualities that a black belt should have, will never get it because they don’t have the recommendation or support from their sensei who are looking for these specific traits.

People generally think that achieving a black belt is the end goal, whereas in fact, it’s the point at which you just start learning about judo.  Shodan, which is a 1st degree black belt, literally means “beginning degree”.  Given that, I look forward to starting to learn what judo is actually all about.

 

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Warren getting his black belt, with daughter Christine on left.

Similar to most judokas, I started judo when I was quite young, around 10 years old.  I was born and raised in Victoria so I attended the Victoria Judo Club headed up by Sensei Inouye and assisted by Bill Kovitz, Mark Grant, Mark Kendell, and others whom you may or may not have heard of.  Unfortunately I stopped judo when I went to university and then life took over to the point that I didn’t go back to it for literally decades.  That is, until my then 12-year old daughter Christine asked if she could try judo and that inspired me to re-join the community.  However, even though I was in my 50s I wanted to do more than just practice, and although I loved the sense of competition I was realistic enough to know that it wouldn’t be a wise choice to get matched up against others who had continued training all those years that I had not, so instead I chose to get involved by becoming a referee.  Doing so would allow me two things: One, I would be involved in the competition aspect of judo and two, it could be my avenue for giving back to the sport by contributing my time.

When I checked the Judo BC website for info on how to become a referee, I found some guidance as to the high-level process but many questions remained.  However, it became apparent that the first thing I needed to do was to attend a referee seminar.  Fortunately there was one scheduled in the following months so I registered for it and spent 2 days one weekend in the Abbotsford Club, along with several other participants.  It turned out that most people who attended the clinic didn’t actually want to ref, but they were there as coaches wanting more information on what the refs are taught, and perhaps wanting to take the “secret information” back to their clubs to share with their club’s competitors, or perhaps to give them an edge as to what the refs look for (or don’t).  In any case, it was an interesting seminar given that part of the time was spent watching video clips of several high level matches, seeing a technique performed that caused an opponent to falter, and having the video stopped at that point while the instructor asked the class “So what do you think…yuko, wazari, ippon, or no score?”.  I managed to get some right and some were quite difficult to tell, so it became apparent to me that experience played a great part in being able to make the right call.

The first time I reffed an actual match was at an Abbotsford Inter-Club Shiai, and it was an “interesting” experience.  I had intended to ref but instead found myself conveniently sitting on the sidelines with the rest of the crowd watching the matches.  It was like the tournament was on auto-pilot, it was just happening, and I gave myself every excuse in the book not to go up.  I finally admitted to myself that the hesitation I was feeling was actual nervousness.  Given that I’ve been working in the corporate world for over 30 years, having given numerous presentations to senior management, leading and managing teams, and being closer to the end of my career than the beginning, it was a very strange feeling to find myself in a new, unexplored and therefore intimidating, situation.  Who gets stage fright at my age?  Christine kept asking me to go up and I would say “In a minute”, or “After the next match.”.  I likely would have sat there for the rest of the tournament if Christine didn’t finally say, “If you don’t get out there right now, I’m going to tell Paul (Wishaw) on you!”.  That did it, so I got up, caught Paul’s eye, and asked if I could try reffing a match.  Fortunately, and I’ll forever be grateful to Paul for this, but he didn’t start laughing and instead said “Sure, by all means!”.  I was nervous, yes, and I probably came across as very awkward, but I did it, and I also knew that it would only get easier from there, and hopefully more enjoyable.  And all it took was for Christine to threaten to embarrass me.

As predicted, after the first time I reffed it did get easier, and I started reffing at the larger tournaments with the next one being the shiai held in North Vancouver.  There were only about 150 participants so it wasn’t overly large and the day didn’t go that long, but it was just the right size for me to get my feet wet again.  A Fall Burnaby tournament soon followed, and I was starting to feel more comfortable in the technical aspects of reffing, although I was still nervous before I went out on the mat.  When I told Christine, she asked why I would be nervous and I said all the people are watching me.  Then, in her usual supportive manner she said “Sorry to disappoint you, but nobody cares about the ref.  They’re not looking at you, they’re watching the competitors.”  After that blunt feedback my stage fright dropped right down and I’ve been fine to walk on the mat ever since.

As a fairly new ref, I can tell you that it’s an experience that can be both very enjoyable, and very stressful.  The calls you make will decide whether or not a competitor moves to the next round, or is perhaps out of the tournament.  It is a responsibility that all refs take seriously.  I’ve never forgotten the three most important things that a ref needs to know about a match, and that is safety of the competitors, fairness in the match, and the quality (excitement) of the competition.  To that degree, the ref looks for things that likely the competitor isn’t even aware of.  For example, is the competitor’s hair tied right, or are they wearing any jewelry.  It’s also important that the refs work as a team, with one ref on the mat and the other two judges watching from the side, ready to overrule a call if it’s deemed appropriate.  I’m aware that even international refs have their initial calls overruled from time to time, and that’s ok.  Anything during the match can be corrected, as long as the right competitor wins at the end.

The more I ref, the more I enjoy it, and my refereeing highlight to date was to ref at this past February’s BC Winter Games.  I had competed myself at the BC Winter Games when I was a teenager so I felt honoured to be given the opportunity to ref at such an important event.  Since I’m now comfortable with the basic mechanics of reffing, the feedback that I’m receiving from the higher graded refs has become less general, and more focused on helping me to improve on some specific facets and nuances of refereeing.  I’ve found that I have to work more on calling osaekomi, especially in the female matches.  Some girls are so flexible that their lower bodies can be twisted 180’ and be propped up on their knees, and yet still be in osaekomi.  I continue to be amazed at that when I can barely reach down to touch my toes.  My goal is to be a good, strong ref.  I have made it my goal to try to be the best ref that I am capable of being.  As long as the parents and competitors don’t groan whenever I step onto the mat, then I know I’m still heading in the right direction.

If you’ve ever thought to try reffing, I encourage you to sign up for the next referee seminar and start learning the basics.  Start reffing at your own club and then at Interclub shiais, as these would be venues that give you the opportunity to try out reffing in a less formal environment.  It gives you a different perspective to a competition and also gives you a better appreciation for what the officials contribute to a tournament.  When you’re out there making the calls and the crowd is cheering for one competitor or the other, you can feel the energy and it’s great to know that as a ref, you are helping to make it happen.  And, as I read in another reffing article and to which I totally agree, you get the best seat in the house.