365 Days of Krav-life.

Picture credit: G C Montgomery

It’s been a year.

365 days.

An entire year since I stepped in to Fight Back Fit in Houston and took my very first Krav-class (which left me hobbling for three days straight!) and embarked on my journey to be an utter badass.

In the last year?

I’ve tried Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Eskrima/Kali, White Collar Boxing and, most recently, kickboxing.

I don’t even know who I am any more – and know what? That’s a good thing.

You think you know yourself.

Or, at least, are pretty sure of who you are.  What your limits are, how you’d react in certain situations and what you’re capable of.

If I learned anything in my Houston Krav time?

It’s that I had no freakin’ clue who I really am, what I was capable of, or what my limits are.

Also?  I’ve never before, in all my life, had a piece of clothing in my wardrobe that HAD to be clean at all times.  Something so important to you, so iconic in your clothing range, that you absolutely have to have it clean, dry and ready to rock at a moments notice.

Until now – my yellow belt t-shirts are THAT piece of clothing.

Post yellow belt testing!

So.  I let a couple days pass me by, then weeks, then a few more weeks (and months), in the hopes that maybe I could organise some form of rational thought, and get past the elation and overwhelming pride in myself before putting something together on paper.

I thought that perhaps, with letting a little time pass, it would all start to sink in and maybe even be a little less surreal.  However, all those months seem to have done? Was allow my black and blue body, to become even more black, and blue – which have raised a few eyebrows whilst out and about in public, and eventually fade back to normality, and cause some serious cabin-fever to set in from not fighting lately.  But what hasn’t started to fade?  What isn’t gone? And I’m honestly not sure it ever will…it my overwhelming pride in myself for what I achieved.

On Sunday 18th September, I faced what I’d consider to be one of, if not THE biggest personal challenge I’ve ever faced in all my days…  My level 1, yellow belt test, in Krav Maga. (For those of you who haven’t yet read my original post on Krav, you can find it here.) Nineteen weeks and three days after walking in to the Fight Back Fit (FBF) Krav studio, I hobbled out of there with my yellow belt (and a ‘you survived your test, here’s a kit to survive the next few days of pain’ gift, from my testing partner, Jennifer, containing things like Advil, Tiger Balm, bath salts and an ice pack!)

As I entered my last couple weeks in Houston, I give some real thought to all the things that I accomplished during my time there – and, second only to having my son, nothing fills me more with pride than having completed this achievement – in my entire life.

The most badass group of bitchez around!

I think the saying is ‘it takes a village’, right? And I don’t think I ever truly realised the depth of truth in that saying, until the moment I walked (hobbled) out of the gym with my yellow shirt on.

From my fantastic instructors, Jeanna, Mike and Dan, who not only teach well (well enough that I even learned a ton from other students in the gym), but, more importantly, listen well – to feedback, to questions and to requests for what I needed to work on in the weeks and months leading up to my test.  Fantastic instructors, who gave good, constructive feedback, never made me feel like an idiot for trying something,  whether I sank or swam, who recognised my strengths, weaknesses and limits – and challenged me beyond all of them.

To my solid training crew.  Group message nagging to get my backside to class, pushing my limits (both physical and mental) during training, and socialising (eating) when we were done kicking butt.

I’ve very recently lost a mentor, a coach, the very guy who encouraged (and even ‘gently’ shoved) me in to walking up those stairs to the Krav loft at FBF, and I almost wasn’t going to mark my anniversary at all.  Until I gave it a second thought.  I thought about what he’d want for me to do, about how much of an important milestone it is for me in my life and how he’d be pretty devastated to know that I didn’t mark it somehow.

I don’t think I’ll fully be able to put in to words just what a difference taking that first step in to the gym has made to my life as a whole.  I was terrified, shaking, even.  I’ve mentioned it any number of times around this blog, but, there’s often this ‘fat girl’ thing in the gym, those uber fit dudes and gals who make it look so easy, who can go pump iron for an hour or two, and not so much as sweat a single freakin’ bead.  Whereas me? I look at the gym from the car park, my face turns a deep shade of beetroot and I get under-boob sweat. I don’t know how to use the machines, I’m super intimidated by fit people, I utterly abhor exercise and I confess to having my own ‘fat girl’ complex, never mind the ‘fat girl’ complexes the *actual* fit people may have, when they see a plus sized chick walking in to their gym.

I was legit terrified to go in to FBF, but, it didn’t take long before I felt at ease.  Between the instructor and my fellow students, I felt oddly at home, from the first five minutes of class.  That has never happened before – I thought for a moment that my desire to be like Jason Statham had overshadowed my core-trembling-terror at being in a gym.

I was never asked ‘do you think you can do this?’  I was never told ‘Just do what you can’, and once I’d shaken off my new-person terror, I eventually lost the ‘I can’t’ mentality, and adopted a ‘someday I’ll do what they’re doing’ mentality – and yet? They never demanded that I did something, either.  They never said ‘you must do this’, I just knew that as long as I pushed and challenged myself in each class and went a little further, and a little harder, that eventually, I’d be able to do all of the things that the other, slimmer, more flexible, fitter students could do – including kicking my friend in the head (she was elated, I was horrified! LOL!)

It didn’t happen overnight, the crew at FBF quietly (ha! Not!) encouraged me to push myself, to grow, to learn, but mostly? To believe in myself.  To believe that I could do anything I wanted to, with some hard work and grit.  After a couple weeks of the beginner classes, I levelled up and joined the advanced classes too – if I was driving for an hour to get there, it made sense to just stay for the two hours instead of one.  But more than that? I started to believe I could do it.  I started to WANT to do it.  Me.  Miss ‘allergic to exercise’, WANTED to work out more.  Why? Because I loved every freakin’ second of it. 

Walking on the treadmill? Nope, not for me.

Learning how to choke someone and defend against chokes? Count me in!

My badass training was quickly in full flow. 

I learned more than I could ever tell y’all, during my time at FBF.  Not just about survival skills and self-defence, though that was a big part of it.  But I learned more about myself, conditioned my ‘fight response’, (whereas before, while I’d have said I’d have only *said* that I had a fight response, I think, looking back, it would have been a flight response instead.)  I learned that most of my limits were self-imposed, I trained with orange belts, green belts, blue belts, black belts and instructors.  I trained with women and men, tall and short, 100lb people and 250lb people.  As a 250lb girl, I never imagined that was possible.  I never thought I’d be able to lift my leg high enough to kick someone in the head.  Or to endure (and LOVE) ten hours of exercise a week! Some days I did SIX hours of self defence – IN ONE DAY!?  At first, I was a little intimidated, but I had a thirst to learn so I quickly just jumped in with both feet…and both fists.

I remember the instructors always telling me that it often takes people a while to find their inner fight, their inner warrior, that thing that makes them want to absorb everything like a sponge in class, and excel, and I almost fell over when they told me that I walked in the door with it, on my sleeve, ready to be a badass.  I didn’t feel that way, I was unsure, shaky and convinced my friend who’d sent me to krav was punking me for some cruel joke – but, from day 1 they saw something in me – something they fostered, nurtured and helped develop, and the more I look back, the more landmark moments I notice through my journey that make me beam with pride.

Post Muay Thai seminar with world renowned Mark ‘The Hyena’ Beecher

I, not only survived a three hour Muay Thai seminar with Mark ‘The Hyena’ Beecher – but I rocked it.  Ok, his long and complicating cardio inspired cool-down was beyond me, but I was SO epically proud of myself that day – mostly for not allowing the bowl of spaghetti that was threatening to make a reappearance from lunch, come back up.  But also? I’d done the morning Krav class, the women’s self-defence seminar AND the three hour Muay Thai class in ONE DAY – and loved every damn second of it.  And wanted to do it again.

My first fight class, with my training partner, and big bro G.

There are no classes on the FBF schedule that you cannot go to – except one – even if you’ve just walked in off the street for your first week of training, you can go to the beginner, the advanced, the cardio – you can do it all, except fight night.  Fight Night is Mike’s ‘baby’, it’s a night where students get together and work on fighting technique, sparring, punching, even kicking (with shin guards on, obviously!)  To go to this class, you have to be invited, and I wasn’t quite convinced that I’d receive an invite before I left Houston, I was jealous of those who got to go, and I was totally convinced that I NEEDED to do fight night – so I worked hard.  I went to watch one or two fight nights, after a couple months of training, and as I left one night, Mike called me from the top of the stairs and said, ‘if you wanna come fight next week, you can’, I thought he was just being nice cause I’d sat and watched everyone fight for an hour, ‘I don’t mind watching’, I replied, ‘it’s ok’.  He replied, ‘yeah, but you’re ready to stop watching and fight’.  And so, I did. 

Snap from the class I was pulled out of line to demonstrate good punches.

I was pulled to the front of the class one night, in front of one of the biggest groups of students I think I witnessed in my entire time training at FBF.  To demonstrate – wait for it, ‘excellent form for straight punches’.  For a moment I felt totally embarrassed, but that was quickly replaced by overwhelming pride.  I turned to Mike and said ‘I’ve been concentrating on my form lately,’ to which he replied, ‘I know, it’s why you’re showing everyone else how to punch correctly right now’.  When I started white collar boxing in Newry after I got back to Ireland, I tried to help a few people I got close to with their punching form.  In my first class, I was told by another boxer, to pay attention to myself and stop trying to help people.  I told her that if I could help someone NOT break their knuckles, I was going to do it.  Just because I’d never done white collar, just because I’m a big girl, and just because I know something that *you* don’t know, doesn’t mean I don’t have something to teach.  In FBF, the mantra was more, ‘everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach’.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a black belt man, or a white belt woman, you can still train together, and you can still learn -each of you, something of benefit, from the other. 

During Testing – picture credit G C Montgomery

My most notable moment in my first year of krav-life, was the day I earned my level one/yellow belt.  It wasn’t just a couple hours of being beaten up by (and beating up) my fight partner Jenn – though, if you know Jenn, you’ll know that that is an accomplishment on its own.  I couldn’t sleep the night before, couldn’t eat the morning of, I was utterly crapping myself, terrified – as confident as I had felt in the weeks running up to the test, in the last seven days of training with Gary and Jenn, I was convinced I sucked ass at everything and was just plain going to embarrass myself and fail – hell, I even got knocked on my ass during my test (I had a feeling it was going to happen, Jenn has this thing about gusto in her choke attacks from the front with a push).  When in actual fact? Jeanna told me that I was the most technically proficient level one student she had ever seen.  Mic drop – I’m out.  I was walking on air.

Last supper with my crew the night before I flew <3

Leaving that group of people to come back to Ireland, was one of the hardest things I’ve done.  Saying goodbye to them all in the carpark after my last supper of ramen, didn’t prevent me from ugly crying at the side of the road.  I was heartbroken.

I felt like those people knew me on a level I hadn’t previously knew existed within myself, I mean, you can’t exactly sit down at a table for dinner with your regular people friends and talk about your favourite choke position, or your favourite way of kicking people.  Most people don’t see bruises as badges of honour, they see injury, weakness, pain.   Kathy developed a ‘I train with Jenn’ and ‘I train with Las’ bruise balm for us to heal the worst of our war-wounds, but bet your ass I took pictures of them and snap chatted them to EVERYONE who’d look – Jenn will even tell you that I sent her a pic of my epic ‘the boy missed the pad and kicked my boob instead’ bruise.

Leaving that group of people to come back to Ireland? I was largely convinced that I’d really never fight again, I’d never find somewhere to fit in, somewhere who makes ‘fat girls’ feel accepted for their skill and not assume they had no game, just cause of their size.  And while I haven’t found my fight tribe here just yet, I didn’t quit.

I’ve been slow getting back ‘at it’ since I came back to the UK, my friend Taylor said to me that I needed to put it to priority #1.  ‘This is where I tell you that you busted your ass to earn that belt.  The right way.  So you didn’t have to prove yourself where you were going.  And it’s not about the colour of the belt, or how many days it takes to earn it.  It’s about your abilities.  And if you don’t practice, you’re going to be set back.  I don’t want to see you wait on krav or some other kind of fighting skill – you’ve stalled far too long as it is.’

He had a habit of telling it like it was.

Since I came back, I did a couple Krav classes in my home town, I’ve done a white-collar boxing fight night for charity and I’ve just recently started a four week, women’s only kickboxing class.  It’s not much.  It’s absolutely not enough.  But my heart has lost a little of its spunk I guess.  Leaving FBF, coming home to a country distinctly lacking in Krav and having lost a coach and mentor.  My heart hurts.  I cried the entire drive to my new kickboxing class, it was bitter sweet. It’ll pass, I know it’ll pass – because time ‘heals’ all, but, moreso, because I miss it.  Because I know I can’t quit being a badass – you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. 

I’m hungry to train, I’m hungry to learn, I’m hungry to fight.  Every.  Damn.  Day.  I just need to find my jam here in Ireland.  Once I do – I’ll be unstoppable.

Watch this space.

 

A Woman, in a Man’s world.

img_0042A friend presented me with UFC Fight Night tickets as a “congrats you passed your yellow belt in Krav, here go watch live fighting for a night” gift.

I was THRILLED when my “kid” brother was able to get the night off work to come with me. I’ve taken him to WWE as a kid, but I had no interest in wrestling and didn’t know a damn thing back then, but, he enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching him, watching something he loved.

Now we’re both older, and we’re both “in to” fighting, I was even more excited to share this experience with him. As adults, and having lived across the pond for so long, we haven’t, and don’t get much “just us” time, and this meant a lot to me.

img_0159The night was going well, and took an unexpected upturn as Rowan came back from a trip to the loo and announced that he had just walked past Amanda Cooper as he was coming back to his seat. Just casually milling around the concourse at the Odyssey, still in her kit, after having won her FIRST EVER UFC fight. He said he contemplated stopping for a picture, but there was a crowd swarmed around her, so he thought better of it.

I didn’t go to the toilet right away, and when I did, I had no expectation of seeing Amanda on the concourse, but as I was walking back to my door, I caught her in my peripheral. She was walking pretty quickly, flanked by two guys and I thought to myself, nah, I’ll leave her be.

I walked in my door, got to the top of the stairs and was one foot ready to descend, when I had a whole slew of thoughts that prompted me to quickly turn on my heel and go back out to see if, just on the off chance, I could catch up with her for a picture.

You see, my gifted tickets were for some pretty epic seats, Row B, in fact, and Amanda had walked past us (we were sat on the exit route from the octagon) after her fight, just as a bunch of lads sat down behind us.

One of them had clearly never seen a fight before in his life. He asked his friends if this was the “sport for people having a midlife crisis”, and while that comment was mildly funny to his friends, what got me and made me want to punch him (and all of his friends in their boy parts) was the fact he was a blatant objectifying, misogynistic douche bag – and they egged him on and found him hilarious.

I sat there, listening to him, my blood slowly boiling from a simmer, loudly objectify the octagon girl. Announcing any number of derogatory comments about her and how he wished he’d sat closer so he could see her, rather than the fighting – because of how “f’ing hot” she was.

And you know what? For the longest time? My entire goal in life was to BE that octagon girl. Skinny, pretty, big boobs – the epitome of everything society and the world tells you that you should BE as a woman.  Plus sized is a dirty word.  You need to BE beautiful.  Plus sized is NOT beautiful.

Even nowadays.

Sit pretty.
Look nice.

Be skinny.

Another guy behind me, boxed for Ireland. He boxed for eleven years and when I asked him if he coached or taught when he was done fighting, he replied no, he had three daughters. He was taken aback by my exclamation of “SO???” and said he’d never have LET them get in to boxing.

Girls don’t fight.
Sit pretty.
Look nice.

He asked us if we came to UFC often and a third member of their group said “well, she (referring to me) is a pro, she knows a lot about this” and I’ll never forget the pride in my brothers voice when he informed them, “she does this” (meaning fight) and the shock on their faces and in their voices when I said, “yeah, I fight”, and told them about my new found love of Krav.

The boxer also said (when the heavyweight class came up), that being hit by a 245lb dude would be like being hit by a “fucking bus”, and sniggered like 245 was so. Damn. Heavy.

And as my 245lb, fitter than I’ve ever been in my entire life, recent yellow belt/level 1 achiever in Krav Maga self, stood at the top of those stairs, ready to return to my seat, I was struck by a lightening bolt.

If the last six months of self discovery and badass training have taught me anything? It’s that I’d rather be a strong, capable badass that men at the very least fear and question my capabilities, but at most, respect.

Than be a woman who’s gawked at, drooled over and talked about like I’m a stupid, piece of meat whose whole existence is to “stand and look f*ckable, like a good girl”.

I’ll admit, the results of the recent US election are weighing on my mind of late. With the president elect being so outwardly degrading to women, and my mounting fear of contraception, abortion and other “women’s things” becoming harder and harder for women to access, rather than easier. I find myself, almost glad, that I don’t yet have a daughter, because my rage and pain for how backward and thinly veiled the worlds attitude towards women remains, isn’t easily translated into comprehensive speech right now.

But bet your bollocks to a barn dance, if I ever have a daughter? I will help her smash through that bloody glass ceiling with our boxing gloves leading the way and shouting a big F U to the men like those I successfully tried not to groin kick tonight at the arena.

img_0072So yes, I walked my butt back out on to the concourse and thankfully, Amanda hadn’t gotten too far. I walked up to her and she made a few guys who were ahead of me, wait a second, so I could take not one, but two pictures with her – my hand was shaking (so sue me, I got a little nervous walking up to her) and I hit the cancel button on snap chat instead of the save button and she graciously granted me a do-over.

In that moment I wanted to hug her, to tell her that she had inspired me, empowered me, and had given me pause to think about things for just a moment.

I wanted to tell her that she was the kind of woman I wanted my future daughters, nieces and Goddaughters to aspire to, pushing the boundaries of what society deems “acceptable” as a woman. Taking societies expectations of what a woman should be, and do and saying screw you, I want to do this instead, and doing it.

I wanted to tell her, that in that moment, she gave me the courage to do something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise, and snapped this picture.

img_0098Which will forever remind me, that, I too, wish to, (and should) push those boundaries and challenge those expectations, vehemently, and for my kids (of either gender) to learn from example and do the same.

That girls can be both beautiful AND badass at the same time – the two aren’t mutually exclusive like we’ve all been led to believe from an early age.

And mostly? That fighting like a girl? Is a pretty epic compliment after all.

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