When I was a kid, my parents put me in karate classes. This was after Bruce Lee exploded into people’s faces in movie after movie, but with his popularity came people like Chuck Norris and the first wave of proper martial arts celebrities. This is before Segal (Above the Law), before Rain (Nina Assassin), even before Dudikoff (American Ninja).
I was enrolled because I used to get picked on at school – like many kids – and I guess I was an easy target, because sometimes the bullies wouldn’t let it drop. I never really got beat up (I did get punched in the face in middle school by a MASSIVE kid, though) but the threat was always there. My dad, being an Army Dad, thought I should start taking martial arts classes.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s there were no pads, there was very little protection – the first place I took classes at had a painted concrete floor, like a million mini-malls across America. It was painted red with a huge Yin-Yang symbol in the middle. One time, trying to do the Uncle Sam heel-click from Good Morning America, I broke my jaw and had to go to the hospital and have my jaw wired shut for a while. That kind of sucked. It’s the only bone I’ve ever broken (touch wood).
When we moved to San Antonio from Oklahoma, we looked around for a dojo to join and found one nearby run by a guy named Juarez, I think. He had older sons who were instructors, and his then-wife (girlfriend? not sure) was a woman named Rhonda, who was a really aggressive fighter in the sparring ring. I learned a lot in that school, and when I got busted stealing stuff from the grocery store next door, it was Sensei Juarez that came to get me and call my parents.
Eventually I joined the tournament team, got a ton of pads and routinely got beaten at various Tae Kwon Do tournaments. After a while I got a black belt, but not long after I didn’t feel I really earned it – after all, Shaolin monks don’t earn their top rank after just a few years of grueling daily training, so how did I earn mine after a couple of years of once- or twice-a-week 1- or 2-hour classes? Besides, seeing little 8-year kids with red belts didn’t exactly boost my confidence in my own black belt.
But still, I had my name embroidered on a belt, and I used the confidence this gave me to stand up to other kids, and eventually the bullies left me alone and worked on weaker and younger kids.
Fast-forward many winters later, and here I am, approaching middle age and trying to get in shape…just to get in shape. One of the things I’ve realized is that I get disinterested pretty quickly with some things in my life, and exercising with the same exercises day after day just isn’t as cool as changing things up from time to time. Right now, on a week where I’m not injured or have anything else going on, I’ll mountain biking one day, lift weights 2 or 3 times and do Tabata intervals twice a week, with one rest day. If/when I start martial arts classes I’ll do the intervals just once a week I think, maybe I’ll drop down to weights twice a week.
So – which classes to take? About a year ago I went to a local kung fu studio to watch them do their thing, and it was interesting watching relative beginners learn their forms and do everything in unison, etc., but nowadays it’s not really my thing. The instructor explained to me that there’s the belt progression and everything from karate that everyone is familiar with, but he also does kickboxing classes which are less formalized and maybe more to my liking. This perked me up, because kickboxing is pretty cardio-intensive, plus there’s still the element of self-defense and even sparring, but in the end I decided not to go.
I think what I’ve settled on is Krav Maga, which is the martial arts style used by the Israeli commando units and taught to people like bodyguards, elite special forces, etc. – hard dudes. Now, I’m far from a hard dude, but when some asshole is in my face threatening me (because, y’know, that happens like every day to me – not!) I want to know I should be able to handle myself and ‘defuse’ things properly. I’ve seen a few shows on krav maga, which is basically a mix of various styles and uses a ‘no rules, no mercy’ approach to getting yourself out of bad situations. From what I’ve seen, it’s kind of a formalized approach to jumping in at the deep end of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) – you know, the UFC fights and all.
There’s an instructor in the city I live in that teaches in a couple different locations near me, and I think I’ll try them out for their free trial session, and if that goes well I’ll join up (£30/year plus £25/month) and see how it goes.
So, partly for physical training, partly for self-assurance, partly to try it out, I think Krav Maga is my game for the future.