Saturday, November 29, 2008

Krav Maga Or An Excuse For A Beating?

Krav Maga is a form of close quarter self defense created in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld in order to help Jews in Europe protect themselves from Nazi and anti-Semitic attackers.  From there Lichtenfeld moved to Israel, and in 1948 Krav Maga became the official form of self defense of the Israeli military and police force.  In short, it's a technique based on the assumption that the attacker will give no room for escape, thus requiring either a lethal or near lethal response.

So being in a course that was to prepare us for the real deal army, we did a couple sessions of Krav Maga.  The second session was really Krav Maga, like learning how to use our rifle as a close quarter combat (CQC) weapon.  In the army there is a defined method of using the M16 in CQC.  It's devastating.  Have a look:



That video only shows the second of six specific strikes that are done one after another. You can actually see the six moves in the very beginning of the video. After about 10 minutes of doing each move separately, we finally began the entire attack with a partner. The instructor was screaming at us as we were slamming the rifle like lightning into our partner's sleeping bag, trying desperately to both be aggressive but under control. I can't even begin to tell you how into it I was. I'm generally a very laid back person, not really getting too hot under the collar even in situations where most guys would turn on the animal instincts. But during the second session of Krav Maga, with the M16 feeling like "an extension" of my arms, I felt like a Roman Legionnaire laying waste to a savage Carthaginian.

But that was just the second session. The first session involved Krav Maga only in the way that we had to keep our hands up in the punching position, "putting my dukes up," if you will. I showed up about five minutes late to the paved outdoor basketball court that the session was held on only to find the guys lined up along the length of the court in punching position. I quickly ran to stand next to my friend who was near the far end of the court.

"What are we doing," I asked as I looked down the row to see if my hands were up properly.

"Um, they're killing us I think."

Down at the other end stood a commander with a title that I still cannot remember. Malgash? Malbash? Malshah? Not sure... let's just call him the "Malshash." Earlier in the week he grabbed me by the collar and jerked me out of my seat during a lecture inside a classroom because my sleeves weren't rolled up according to army regulations. "This isn't a kibbutz!," he screamed. The commander took on the role of Krav Maga Instructor, a position I'm sure he relished. He is, not exagerating, insane.

"PUT YOUR HANDS UP! HANDS UP! KEEP THEM UP!" He paced up and down the court, seeing if our hands were truly capable of punching and protecting.

A commander of Moroccan descent, a special forces soldier, who was in charge of the First Company stood in the back corner, watching, while holding a wooden stick.

The Malshash stopped his pacing, standing still for a moment, and then his face contorted and he yelled, "SIX SIX SIX!!!" I had no idea what that meant, but I soon caught on as everyone flew from the baseline of the court to the other end and back.  That counts as two. Three of those equal six. As soon as we finished we jumped back into position on the baseline and put our fists up. I looked down the line to figure out what was happening, but all I could see was the back of the line. One by one a guy took a few steps back. What was going on all the way down there? Why were they falling back one by one?  I took the moment to catch my breath.

Before I knew it the Malshash was four guys down from me. As hard as he could he slammed his fist into Guy #4's chest. Guy #3 got a gut punch. The maniac Malshash pump-faked a punch into Guy #2's chest, and then with his left he nearly broke the poor kid's arm. Guy #1 almost got a punch to the arm, but then the Malshash kicked his thigh as hard as David Beckham would send a corner kick into midfield. It was brutal.

I know you may be thinking along the lines of lawsuits and abuse scandals, but at the time the only thing on my mind was survival. I just had to get through that torture. And in the process of mentally preparing myself for abuse, I finally clicked into animal mode. Primal instincts. Survival. Cave Man.

Bring it on! I tightened my face and kept my eyes on the Malshash, trying to intuit where he would hit me.  All of a sudden there was a crunch in my chest, and when I thought that was it he landed another punch on my upper arm.  

Stinging.  Burning.  Like a miniature train wreck inside my muscles.  But it felt good.  It felt empowering, somehow.  And then without a warning...

"SIX SIX SIX!!!"  And we took off for the baseline three more times again.

Back to the original stance, hands up!  They started to feel a little bit heavy at that point.  I looked down the line, trying to figure out if this was it.  "Is this Krav Maga?," I wondered.  Apparently it was.  

For the sake of brevity I won't recount the rest of the "conditioning" we suffered, like running in the dog position at full speed - on our hands and feet - and crawling like a crab at full speed - hands and feet only, again.  How many times did we do SIX SIX SIX?  I lost count.  It generally was a welcome break after the dog/crab crawls, though.  They may have been the most physically trying event I've ever done in my life.  Honestly.  You want to know how hard they are, or do you think I'm exaggerating?  Get down in these positions right now. 







I'll give you 30 seconds...

Now try to run full speed across a paved court and back multiple times with the threat of having to do it again if you're in the last five people.......  did you do it?  Of course not.  Why?  Because it hurts and sucks and no human should be subjected to such mandatory punishment for no reason.  But this was our "Krav Maga" session, so what could I do but listen?  (I cursed the 'injured' people sitting out).

Now here's the interesting bit:

The Malshash had us back on the baseline, and he was coming in for more punches and kicks.  This was probably the fourth round of it, and my body was already screaming from the crawls and punches.  As the maniac got close I readied myself, and then he was one person away so I figured I'd brace for the crushing blows.  I sucked a half-breath in, tightened my muscles, clenched my jaw...

CRUNCH CRUNCH - two instantaneous fists to the gut.  The Malshash continued to the next guy in line, my buddy Isaac, but then quickly stepped back into my face.  I braced again, thinking he was coming back for more from the tall guy, but then he asked me something in an uncharacteristically normal voice.

"דכגדנ דיצמן ישדראץ יחללף?"

"What," I asked.  My mind wasn't exactly in the foreign language mode.

"Did you גרטהני בכלםר?"

Considering that I had flexed for the hit, I figured he was asking me if I did just that.  At the time it made a lot of sense:  if you flex for the punch or attack because you know it's coming it isn't realistic.  I knew he was going to hit me because that was the exercise we were doing.  Maybe we weren't supposed to flex or brace ourselves.  That made sense.

"Yes," I replied.

"Give me 30 fist pushups," he whispered calmly.  I dropped to the ground and with fists grinding against the pavement I pushed out about 15.

Then he started kicking me, repeatedly, in the ribs.  Over and over, hard, as I pushed out the last 15.  I couldn't feel my knuckles past the throbbing in my side.

"Good," he said quietly and softly, with a sinister smile on his face.  

I got back into the punching position, standing straight and tall, strong, but feeling close to reaching my physical limit.

My buddy Isaac turned his head to me, trying hard to not be noticed by any of the other commanders, and questioned, "Do you know what he asked you?"

"Yeah, he asked if I braced for the punch."

"Uh, no..."

"What?"

"He asked if you tried to punch him back."

I didn't say anything for a second, just soaking in the obviousness of the situation, because honestly if you didn't brace yourself for the wrecking ball of a punch to the stomach you'd die the painful death of Harry Houdini.  That makes sense.  Finally I replied with the only suitable response.

"Oh."

And then, and I am not lying to you or exaggerating, the special forces commander standing in the corner with the wooden beam came over to me and told me to stick my leg out.

"Put your thigh forward!," he screamed.

He slammed the processed wooden stick against my quad as hard as he could, trying to break it in half.  It didn't break, but was split heavily down the center.

"Pity," he lamented.

I can still feel where he hit me, and that was a few weeks ago now.

11 comments:

Jonathan said...

We had to do a buttload of crab crawls and dog walks and wheelbarrow walks during swim practice my senior year when we got the new coach. It was pretty gruesome for an hour before practice.

Anyway, stay tough. Keep your hebrew tight might make things a little easier next time.

Anyways, do it up be strong miss you buddy..

Jack said...

My son has been taking Krav Maga lessons for a couple of years now. I should show him your post.

Sabra Stephanie said...

oh boy, and I thought I had a bad morning in ulpan. I really enjoy your blog, thanks for giving me a taste of what's to come. Stay strong.

Anonymous said...

That is hilarious! Abusive but hilarious. You need to learn how to say "I didn't understand" in Hebrew a little more though it seems. Why would the guy think you were trying to hit him back though? Did you and not even realize it? Can't wait till you can teach me some moves bro!

Rafael said...

I guess the first class was just a beating, as it was meant to be. I belive "abuse", "lawsuit" are not the answers to what happened, I mean, the army training is supposed to get you prepared to what you'll encounter in a battlefield, only that once in action there's no control whatsoever, anything can happen, and you'll have to be ready. It seems to me you're a bit readier now to get a beating. Congratulations, no joke, I mean it.

Rafael said...

I guess the first class was just a beating, as it was meant to be. I belive "abuse", "lawsuit" are not the answers to what happened, I mean, the army training is supposed to get you prepared to what you'll encounter in a battlefield, only that once in action there's no control whatsoever, anything can happen, and you'll have to be ready. It seems to me you're a bit readier now to get a beating. Congratulations, no joke, I mean it.

Lindsay said...

umm, guessing i should brush up on my hebrew before I come to Israel next.

Danny Brothers said...

The Hebrew thing is complicated. I actually know Hebrew pretty well, and I speak Hebrew, but when you're just that exhausted, that under stress, it's hard to keep your mind focused also on another language. I was thinking much more intensely about what my body was doing, not what my mind was doing. I went into primal mode - and the language you use then is the language you're most comfortable in.

I'm glad I didn't understand. I wouldn't have gotten 7 unique commenters from it if it didn't happen!

Danny Brothers said...

The Hebrew thing is complicated. I actually know Hebrew pretty well, and I speak Hebrew, but when you're just that exhausted, that under stress, it's hard to keep your mind focused also on another language. I was thinking much more intensely about what my body was doing, not what my mind was doing. I went into primal mode - and the language you use then is the language you're most comfortable in.

I'm glad I didn't understand. I wouldn't have gotten 7 unique commenters from it if it didn't happen!

the sabra said...

Haaaaaaaaaa!
That is INSANE!
Is it mean if I tell you I'm laughing and laughing away?
(Cmon, if I'm leaving a comment, I'm already in your good graces, lo?)

Your army posts are priceless.

Anonymous said...

this sounds like extreme krav maga, but still typical of krav maga...the point is to get you into primal mode