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.

 

Smells like Krav spirit…or is that sweat?

How in the world do you blog about a group of people who have quite literally changed your life?
13606656_10156979276515411_756404044872232427_nI wasn’t going to write this just yet.  I’m not 100% sure why, exactly.  I have a few reasons I guess, I wanted there to be more of a change in me, I wanted to make sure I stuck at it for an extended period of time and I wasn’t convinced that eight weeks was enough time to gauge, well, anything really.
Plus? Let’s just throw it out there now, but when it comes to talking about my amazing little Krav family? I get hit square in the feels (as long as it’s not the jaw, right?)

But, my time here in Houston is drawing to a close over the next couple months, and this new lifestyle and these new people have already had such a profound impact on my life, I thought “screw it”.  I figure that there’s really no harm in sharing this new chapter of my life on this blog.  Especially considering that the mental changes within myself, far outweigh any current visible, physical changes.  I’ve even gone so far as to have already looked up somewhere to continue my training when I go home, and Col has looked for somewhere in India.

I officially have “the bug”.
13516350_10156973497185411_7002291917759849473_nOn Thursday, May 5th, (so just over a month ago as I start to write this), I, in what felt at the time, like a moment of utter insanity, drove North of the city to try a free Krav Maga class.  I didn’t know much about the self defense system, other than it was more instinctual and less “organized”, than say, Tae Kwon Do, and really a little more akin to street fighting even.  So, off I went.
I got there a little early so I could watch the end of the previous, intermediate/advanced class, train and had I listened to the not-so-quiet voice screaming loudly in my ear to think again about what in the name of all that is holy I thought I was doing, I’d have bolted.  Part of me wanted to.  Not a small part either.  There was absolutely no way in hell I could ever do what those people were doing, right? But they’d all seen me come up the stairs, there was no escape – believe me, I considered it.
Hold up.  Let’s rewind a little, we all know that I’ve posted any number of fitness, weight loss, or healthy eating posts since I started this blog.  I’ve yoyo-ed the same 10lbs for years and my self-image hasn’t ever been stellar.
I abhor exercise.  Despise it.  I’ll leave a collection of things on the stairs that needs taken up, because I’m just too out-rightly lazy to add an extra flight of steps into my day.

And then something clicks.

It’s the same process every time, right?
I’ll get so sick of seeing my reflection in the mirror and I’ll hit something full pelt.  I’ll eat 1600 (-1800) calories a day (GP approved before any of you give me grief), drink 2 liters of water, eat 5 a day and start some form of exercise, Les Mills Body Attack or C25K have been the most notable favourites to date.  I’ll go 3-5 times a week, give my all, and after the first week or two of quick body-shock progress, eating like a hangry ankle-biting rabbit and working out more than any sane person should, in my lazy land of couch potato, I’ll hit some dumb plateau, the scales won’t move and I’ll lose my patience with it.  Or? Better yet? I’ll get my period, use it as the worlds lamest excuse to curl up in the corner and avoid the gym like the plague.  It really doesn’t take much for me to quit and go back to being unhappy with myself.
Typically.
I know myself, I know my patterns.

Or so I thought.

Anyways, back we go to Las, sat on the floor of the Krav loft, trying to look calm – when all she really wanted to do was jump in the car and drive home – stretching, because from the look of the intermediate class, it seemed like that was a smart thing to do, and praying, praying hard, that no one laughed at my mere presence there.
Then it occurred to me, the (I’m reluctant to call them educated, but on the subject matter I guess they are) person (people) who encouraged me to go to Krav in the first place? Wouldn’t have done so from an unkind place, or to make fun of me somehow.  They encouraged me to go because they thought I was capable – in spite of enjoying my couch potato lifestyle.  They thought that it was, perhaps, something I would enjoy, and maybe even go to a second class.  They believed in me, even if I didn’t believe in myself.
13510781_10156955669315411_8653724555621343230_nMy first class was pretty “low-key” (I’m also reluctant to say low-key, because I still ended up a sweaty mess and my calf hurt for three days after training).  It was all footwork, (stance is the most important thing!) and I spent most of the 60 minutes face to face with an orange belt, called Jen, who I’d seen training at the end of the previous class.  Neither she, nor Mike (the instructor), laughed at me for being there, they didn’t scoff, or ask what I thought I was doing, and, despite us giggling for the guts of an hour, Jen taught me more than I realised.
In spite of not being able to walk very well the next day (my calf protested being off the floor for an hour), I was sufficiently intrigued.  I signed up for a monthly, unlimited class membership and attended a two-hour monthly women’s self defense seminars, just two days later, that Saturday morning.
13319719_10156865174375411_9113199934113673980_nIn the eight weeks since that first night? My goal in May was 9 classes (two per week) I finished the month on 13.  I’ve attended a 3 hour Kali/Escrima (knife skills) workshop, two (soon to be three) 2-hour women’s self defense seminars and a 3 hour Muay Thai workshop with the best Muay Thai coach in the US.  I’ve not only tried an intermediate class, but I’ve done a number of back to back inter/beginner classes in the last few weeks, and I’m hungry for more.  Why? Not just because I enjoy it – sure, that’s a huge chunk, but these people I’m training with? They help me find belief in myself that I’m CAPABLE of more.
Crazy as it sounds, (and I know it’s a long shot, but we all need goals, right?) I’m training with the aim of testing for my yellow belt before we leave the US.  My goal for June was 13 classes, 3 per week and I finished on 22 Krav classes and 1 cardio combat class, I’ve not skipped a single class simply because I have ovaries (as a friend’s better half pointed out “an attacker doesn’t care if you’re sick or have your period”) and I’ve even managed to simultaneously train through a chest infection, just fine.
13307453_10156865174365411_3685887745969475778_nIt’s incredibly hard to capture, on a computer screen especially, the kind of people, or atmosphere, that Fight Back Fit has managed to harness, and I find it just a little laugh-out-loud-funny that I’m getting ‘totes emosh’ about a group of seriously bad ass fighters, however, I really am.  Last week? I trained for two hours before we went out for post-training tacos.  We typically close out the places we go to eat, mostly, I think, because the other patrons are afraid that our special kind of crazy is contagious and don’t want to be within a city block of our hysterical giggling.  Anyways, I had a not-so-minor breakdown on my way home, worked up and upset that I’m leaving this great group of people in a short matter of weeks.  It bothers me, a lot.
In class, no matter who I pair with in training, I learn something.
Everyone has something to teach.
Everyone is vested in everyone else’s training.  Everyone wants to make you a better fighter and no one cares that you’ve only been there a short number of weeks and suck at hooks, your left elbow flares when you strike, or that you punch with the wrong part of your fist – they just want you to be better.

Every class.

13528802_10156942683145411_1999757221268620819_nFighting and fitness aside? The folks I train with have a pretty social element to their training, they typically eat out after class a couple times a week (this has become after every time I train because I have a long drive home and am so hungry I could eat an entire cow when I’m finished), we’ll sit, laugh (there’s always lots of laughing), talk, share stories and re-fuel after a tough work out that we push each other to kick ass in.
I know you’re skeptical, I would be too had I not experienced it first-hand, there’s no way anyone could accidentally happen upon such a ready-made group of great friends, right? Wrong.  Aside from the Krav-ing, and the post-Krav eating (which, in the interest of being up front if you’re thinking of joining us, can last for hours), we have also hung out socially, I’ve been shooting with them, we’ve had lunch together on non-Krav days, and we’re working on throwing together a bucket list for my last eight weeks here in Houston and have a few fun things like karaoke and go-karting on the list for us to try our hands at.
13615046_10156987121315411_4232918578577866323_nWe even landed around to my Krav friend Kathy’s house (toddler and all!) and invaded for a bbq for the 4th, with two of my other fave Krav friends (Kate and Jen) with Kathy’s sister and her family.  If someone starts a sentence with ‘Hey, why don’t we…?’, or ‘Does anyone want to…?’ chances are at least four of us will be there.
They pick me up when I fall (literally), build me up when I’m low, push me through when I feel like I can’t do something and tell me I’m getting skinnier while punching me in the chest – what’s not to love? 😉
13606503_10156989125330411_3121260125936346466_nWanna know how hard I love these folks? Sunday night on my way to my volunteer shift at Ronald McDonald, I hit a pot hole – and I was scared to my core that I’d busted out my tyre, was going to get stranded at the hospital (I had the car seat in my car, so Col couldn’t come rescue me, had I been in trouble), but I knew that without a doubt, I could have called any of a handful of Krav people and they’d have busted their behinds to help me get myself figured out.  Thankfully, I didn’t need it, but it’s a very, very reassuring feeling to know that someone’s got your back.
While a large part of me is devastated that I didn’t meet these people seven years ago when we first moved to H-Town, a larger part of me is so damn thankful that I got to meet them at all.  That I got over myself, my inner demons, my self-hatey and crappy self esteem to take a chance, try something new, and that I get to spend my last four months in Houston, doing something I love, with people I love even more.
13521842_10156955669410411_8167052263224450380_n