A Sobering Krav Maga Experience


The background of my psychological dispositions is the proper subject for a different post. Here, I want to recount an experience that was so unusual for me that it shook my confidence in being able to deal with a real-world physical conflict.

I was running late to Jenn Ayran's Saturday morning level 3 class. Outside of a previous class's getting out late, this was the first time in over 4 years of Krav Maga that I've been late to a class because I arrived at the school late. While I wasn't too frantic or anxious about my tardiness itself, because it was the result of an intentional choice to prioritize other matters before leaving home, those other matters were themselves very emotional. So I was already in "a mood".

I was about 10-15 minutes late, and as is the custom, the instructor imposes a "punishment". Typically, it amounts to some number of burpies, but for whatever reason, Jenn decided that because of where the class was in the course of the warmup, I would immediately be thrown in the middle of a "circle of death".

A circle of death is where one person is in the middle of a circle, and all the classmates hold pads and try to create a frantic situation of calling for the "circlee" to defend against some attack (sometimes being struck with the pad and sometimes a choke or a grab) and then execute some counter-attack. It's all meant to be fast and disorienting and exhausting. Block a pad, then defend against a carotid choke, then deliver two groin kicks (into pads!). Something like that, over and over. This typically lasts only a few minutes, and that is meant to approximate the duration and energy expenditure of a real-life fight.

I'm pretty fit, both in terms of strength and endurance. I have good cardiovascular conditioning and a level of tenacity that often gets me into trouble in other circumstances. I don't freak out or panic. I have never felt scared for my physical safety. My cognitive understanding of the safe circumstances of the class had always made it easy for me to feel relatively relaxed in class, even when I'm having to dig deep to push through physical exhaustion. It's all felt very controlled.

But this morning, whether it was my emotional state coming in or the fact that I wasn't properly warmed up or something else, I really struggled. In a situation that would otherwise have been no big deal, I found my energy levels were very quickly depleted. I got tunnel vision. My "reflexes" and reactions were unusually slow. I found myself feeling so exhausted that, for the first time ever, I felt a strong urge to just give up. Like give up and die.

I managed to push through and willed myself to keep fighting through my exhaustion. In a way, that was itself a powerful indication of just how much strength of will I actually have, since it was a test under truer emotional and physiological circumstances. But if it were real and my attackers had real intent to harm me, I'm not so sure I would have come out alive. Maybe knowing that it was real would have caused a correlative adrenaline spike that would have helped me to get through it. I don't know.

When the circle of death was over, I slumped down against the wall. I was dizzy and exhausted. I could barely think. I literally couldn't even. Jenn had to ask me if I was okay. I definitely wasn't, but I knew I would be.

It was a truly sobering moment for me. For all my arrogance around my will power and physical fitness, it really hit me that under the right (or wrong?) circumstances, my sense of self-preservation can almost disappear. It's really great that we practice under relatively safe circumstances at school, automatizing the techniques that we can call on if needed in a real-world emergency, but I can't understate how much the difference between practice and reality is a gaping chasm.