We stepped out of the storm into a brick walled industrial era building. We had to choose between the stairs and one of those big, beat-up old cargo elevators that look like they'll take you straight to hell. We took the stairs.
M. Cimkauskas let us into a large room with exposed steel framework on the ceiling and large windows running full length along one side. The storm raged outside, but this place was pleasantly warm. Disco pop filtered discreetly from the back of the room and there was no hint of that distinctive olfactory manslaughter common to all gyms the world over. Tatami-style rugs covered the floor and weapons were racked against the wall.
Knives, M16, pistol; all polymer imitations of the real thing. These were not dime-store plastic toys but realistic copies that even weighed the same as real weapons. So real looking in fact that they were painted blue in case some cop came in here and thought something extreme was going down, or some baddies decides to steal them to stick up a bank.
That's the first thing that my Krav Maga instructor said on the very first day. Krav Maga, he said, is all about effectiveness and one of the primary factors is reflexes. The system works because it readies your body to react the same way reflexes do. The time-spent training is optimized so that you reap maximum benefits from it. No chi or mystic head tripping here. You will learn everything you need to fight savagely to defend your life in a pared down, bare bones, efficient manner from the word go.
Before we start, we have to tell you that we trained with experts. If you are interested in following our path you probably can find a school in your community. We trained in Montréal with a bona fide Krav Maga International expert: Thierry Cimkauskas. He performed Sam Fisher’s Krav moves in one of Splinter Cell video games that were described extensively in the novels of the same name. He teaches that the important thing to remember is this :
“This is not a sport”
Was the second statement, and it validated our choice of Krav Maga to begin with. A perfect fit for Super Spy Me, (Ed. Roundhouse kicks look hyper cool, but even as a karate newbie I could avoid them. I wouldn't try them in a life threatening situation or in a crowded bar. You could radically redecorate the place, leaving your opponent scot-free.)
“Everything is allowed”
Was the third. For training purposes, we would limit certain moves in order to spare our learning partners. However, it is mandatory to wear jockstraps, so you get the idea. You won’t get kudos for the form or aesthetics of movements in Krav Maga either.
Eye gauging, headbutts, kicks to the groin are routine in a krav maga class. Remember Jason Bourne in that great fight scene? Remember him using a ballpoint pen to stab his opponent? Brutal, relentless, efficient.
We learned to condition the body's natural response to threats, using scenarios created to hone those natural reflexes. There is nothing like experience we are often told. So, how do you gain that experience without being killed right on the first encounter?
Scenarios involving screams, restrictive locales, offending words and offensive body language rewire your brain’s natural response to threats. They create out of chaos a familiar environment which won’t be destabilizing in case you find yourself threatened. Hence the emphasis on using reflexes as a baseline. Because you’ve seen it, heard it, felt it and responded to it so many times, your reflexes will be taking over and trigger the appropriate response to the threat the Bourne way. Again, it's done differently than you would in a predefined classic martial arts approach of routines and katas. The attacks are coming from everywhere: from the sides, the back, the front, at an angle, close up or distant, high and low. You go through this hundreds of times until you really are comfortable with chaos.
Another interesting aspect of using scenarios is that it broadens your comfort zone and pushes your fears away; even the slightest change is good, since fear is a strong feeling that can be paralysing in some extreme situations. When you are expanding your comfort zone you're more likely to stay in control, keep your emotions in check and act appropriately.