Of all the activities I considered for the “Versus” series, Krav Maga worried me the most. Melee combat( outside of RPG encounters) is not my area of expertise. In fact, outside of the occasional flirtation with karate that all teenage males go through, the fighting arts and I had a purely theoretical relationship. That said, I understand that knowing how to defend oneself is a useful skill, so some time in hand-to-hand combat classes seemed like a good idea.
Given the plethora of martial arts and the fact most males try one or more of them sometime in their life I decided to go farther afield to try one that is a bit more exotic. That and I loathe any martial art with a patina of Asian mysticism. This is not a complaint about the utility or value of common martial arts like karate or kung-fu, just my extreme distaste for the “magic glow” that all martial arts from distant lands engender in people that have never visited said distant lands. I lived in Japan for two years, so the glow is gone for me. I do not need to get in touch with my inner zen, wear white pajamas or learn to bow. Given all that, Krav Maga is about all that is left.
Krav originated in Israel as an easy to learn and effective combat specifically designed to do maximum damage with minimum effort. It also has a reputation for brutally hard training. Sounds like just the thing for a PC to know.
Doing a bit a research I found a Krav Maga training center (React Defense) and signed up for an introductory class. I had hoped to sign-up full time if all went well, but a surprising logistical issue quashed my Krav dreams, but more on that later.
The facility was a couple of large, open rooms with padded floors and stacks of boxing/fitness equipment along the walls. Most of the floor space was empty. After signing forms that I would not sue if I dropped dead while training, I proceeded to my class. The instructor welcomed us all (5 women, 10 men of varying ages), made a point of mentioning I was “trying out” the class (probably to prevent the veterans from accidentally punching me to death) and then we began.
Jumping jacks, push-up, more jumping jacks and stretching got the blood flowing and then we started hitting each other. Actually, we took turns hitting a “punch shield” held by a partner.
You hold the pad against your chest and your partners just punches as hard and as fast as he can. Our instructor used the term “combatives” which is the generic Krav term for hitting something. I learned a very important lesson that one should hold the shield firmly against your body or the punch from your much-better-trained partner imparts an uncomfortable amount of force to the shield, which then hits your chest and rattles your teeth. I figured that one out after the first blow.
Painful lessons aside, I had been in the class about 15 minutes and another human being was beating on the shield I held for all he was worth, as fast as he could. After a couple of furious minutes it was my turn and I began raining blows on the shield held by my partner. Though I have no doubt my punches were weak I made up for it in quantity. The instructor helpfully gave me a few pointers on the proper technique, but it was at this point I noticed something different about Krav from my (admitted limited) martial arts experience. Krav seemed more interested in pure aggression, violence of action and ferocity than style. Certainly correct form mattered and I did receive some suggestions about stance and my palm-strikes, but that was secondary to beating the living daylights out of that pad. Oh, and you never quit, no matter what just keep fighting. Clearly this fighting thing is as much psychological as physical.
After a very brief break for some water, we moved on to some kicking drills which were very much like the punching drill described above and then we played a game of “monkey in the middle.” One person with a kick shield, one with a punch shield and the “monkey” standing between them. The monkey starts by punching the shield until the kick shield wielder bumps him and the monkey turns to kick for a while. After a bit the punch shield guy bumps the monkey and the punching starts again. This went on for a couple of minutes and was arguably the most exhausting part of the class.
A brief interlude to discuss the physical difficulty of my Krav Maga class. Krav training (at least at this school) is interval training. Short bursts of intense exercise (just like a street fight), a brief rest and then another short burst. The entire class followed this model and resulted in a goodly amount of sweat and some sore muscles the next day. I had heard horror stories of projectile vomiting and in fact my instructor mentioned both bathroom and garbage can locations in case I needed them. Happily I was fit enough to get through it, but a true couch-potato may be running for the bathroom. Interval training is rough. Especially around the 4th to 5th interval when you really start to feel it.
Finally, we moved on to a bear-hug escape drill involving some groin strikes, an elbow to the head and then a flurry of punches, pretty much whatever was ok, so long as it involved one of your body parts moving at high speed towards a soft area on your attacker.
Besides sheer entertainment value (punching stuff is very therapeutic after a long day of living a corporate drone lifestyle) and getting a great workout I learned some important things about Krav Maga and its’ philosophy.
Efficiency matters. Every movement I took during the drills either sent a punch/elbow/kick towards my attacker or moved me to a position to attack. There was nothing else, no fancy forms or elaborate moves. Just simplicity.
More importantly Krav makes you dangerous. Not in some abstract “I know Kung-Fu so fear me” way, but in a tangible “I am a human hand grenade, pull my pin and watch what happens.” All joking aside, many of the blows and attacks I learned on day one were potentially crippling or lethal. Given I both sent and received full-speed punches during my class I can honestly attest that without the protective pads I would have been a bleeding wreck on the floor.
All that said, Krav was something I was very interested in taking up…save for one tiny problem.
Given my work/home location and the training center I could not figure out a way to go without fighting rush-hour traffic. While Arizona traffic is not as bad as Los Angeles it is enough of a hassle to put me off training. That said, I told them to keep me on their Rolodex if they open a center closer to me.
So, what are my final thoughts on Krav Maga?
Cost: 8. One year contract runs $129.00 per month. It gets a bit cheaper per month for a longer contract.
Personal Risk: 6. Physically demanding and regular, bone-jarring drills do offer opportunities to catch a stray kick/fist/elbow.
Cool: 7. Hand-to-hand combat that is designed to win. Period.
Gamer Cred: 8. I learned to to escape a grapple and pummel my attacker last night. So, how was that dungeon crawl? Were you seriously injured when you hit your head trying to pick up a dice you dropped? Bask in the glow of this one at the game table. Gamer cred on this one is off even a Rolemaster chart.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer