Monday, 16 January 2017

When To Quit

This is from my other blog Lance Wandering, but is relevant to Krav Maga. I decided to use what the head of KMG UK, Jon Bullock calls "the least creative option" in order to be safe. When I started out on this walk I had every intention of finishing, when I bailed I was 100% certain that continuing was not a safe option.

Safety before someone probably said.

One of many things to do for tourists in Sydney, Australia is a walk of just over 150 miles. It goes from Macquarie Place in Sydney all the way to Queens Wharf in Newcastle. It was purpose built from existing trails some years ago and officially consists of 6 separate chunks, that take from just under a day to several days to finish. The terrain ranges from piss-easy to bastard-hard and it is signposted at semi-regular intervals. There are camping spots and most of the time the trail is no more than 3 miles from civilisation at the very most, so you can always wander off to find water/ medical help/ a cold beer.

I had wanted to do this walk for a while now. It sounded awesome and was going to be a test of stamina, with a safety net just on the borders for an inexperienced novice like myself.


I’m not naive, nor am I foolhardy so I took what I thought would be adequate precautions before I set off. I made certain I had an appropriate amount of gear (first aid kit, TWO cell phones, tent, loads of sun tan lotion and dried food, etc.) and made certain that I had good shoes. I bought a floppy brimmed hat and a dry fit T-shirt. I worked out the various points on the walk and how long I thought I could walk each day. I even enclosed my passport in a waterproof bag and always carried it in my shorts pocket. I even bought an electronic mosquito repellant thingy to back up the spray stuff I’d got.

When I set off I had a streamlined backpack with only essentials plus a LOT of water (including a thermos of “emergency water” buried deep in the darkest recesses of the rucksack). I got a photo at Macquarie Place and set off to catch the ferry to Woolwich, getting off at Valentia Wharf and starting the two hour slog through the town of Hunters Hill before I got into the actual North Walk.

The first bit was tiring but OK. I only took a 5 minute break every hour and got a refill of water into one of my bottles from some guy hosing his front garden (who also was generous enough to spray my feet). I got into the Three Patriots Walk around 5pm and was happy to simply stroll along, not yet using my extendable walking pole (the model being a “Strider” no less) and marvelling at the scenery and the changing views as I moved along.

When I got to a place called Fairyland I was starting to get tired and the day was getting a little greyer. I found a clear spot near the river bank, pitched my tent, made some soup on my converted beer can stove, and watched the sun go down before drinking half a litre of water and crashing out.

I woke at 7am and the morning was beautiful. Peaceful and calm. I made a coffee and sat on the bank while the sun came up. About 7.45 a squad of canoeists paddled up the river and assembled near to where I was, getting into formation before setting off on a practice run (I know it was a practice because I asked the nearest guy to me) while a guy in a boat bellowed enthusiastic encouragement via a loud hailer.

I “broke camp” at around 8.15, packing up and setting off again, looking forward to a good day’s hiking. 


The fatigue from the day before kicked in again pretty quickly. While the sleep had refreshed me, my body wasn’t used to this type of prolonged exercise and as I moved onwards the terrain became a little more difficult, with rocks to climb and twisting paths to navigate. My hourly 5 minute breaks began to become 40 minutes, then 20 and finally 15. I got to a rangers’ station and asked for directions and the guy was super helpful, giving me a free map that normally costs $10, and taking great care to show me the best way to go. He even gave me his mobile number in case I got lost or needed help.

I moved on again and then found that the walk was very rocky and involved climbing. While my feet weren’t hurting, my legs, hips and shoulders were now crying out in protest at carrying 30-ish kilos of weight in 32 degrees celsius sunshine. 

By the time I got to a place named Thornleigh Oval I was in constant pain, I’d used most of my water and my rest breaks were every 10 minutes. 

I threw in the towel at that moment and, to reaffirm my belief in guardian angels, a guy then came down the track on a mountain bike…even though the last time I’d seen another human being was at least three hours previously. He told me how to walk out and get to the nearest shops, where I strolled up, bought a can of soda and while glugging it, booked a room on AirBnB via my phone and caught a bus over to it. The lady driver took one look at me and went “You walking?”
When I replied I’d just bailed on the Great North Walk she tutted and said “Good. It’s not the weather for it, better this way than they have to come and rescue you”.

I got to my lodgings an hour or so later and after a shower and chat with the owner, collapsed into bed, my shoulders and hips still hurting like hell.

Next morning I found out that I’d done the official first bit of the walk, a distance of around 20 miles from Macquarie Place to Thornleigh Oval. I’d done that in heat of up to 32 degrees while carrying a pack weighing 30 kilos and achieved it in a time of about 8 hours. I’d also done it alone.

As dissapointing as it was to bail after what I later worked out was only 13% of the Great North Walk, I’m pleased to have at least tried it and to have spent such a lovely time (up until all I could focus on was the pain my body was in) in such beautiful country. Camping by the river in Fairyland was wonderful.

The record for completing the whole walk is apparently 54 hours. That gives me a sense of scale for how B.I.G the whole thing is as the two people who achieved that, couldn’t have stopped moving and just did it like an ultra marathon. While I never even dreamed of competing with that, I never once thought when setting out that a little thing like stamina would get in the way.

I’ll be back. Next time with a partner and a week or two to finish it all.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Nomadic Kravver- Back & White

I recently trained & graded with SGS Krav Maga in Sydney, Australia. Top notch club and had a great albeit sweaty time practicing Krav and revisiting P5 with them. The head of KMG Australia & New Zealand is a bloke named Adam White, an E3 instructor who has a day job as a high school sports teacher. SGS’s instructors had mentioned his name a few times and I assumed, with Australia being so utterly, mind bogglingly vast, that Adam resided somewhere like Darwin or Cairns.

After a trip to Broken Hill to visit the Mad Max 2 museum out there (yep, there’s a museum JUST for the second movie) I came back to the east coast to couch surf in the town of Newcastle and my host plus a couple of German guests staying same time as me, expressed an interest in learning some Krav Maga.

I looked up local clubs and…lo and behold, Adam White runs a club in Newcastle. I took a trip out there just to say Hi in between sightseeing (ever been to a place called Bogey Hole? It’s an experience) and he was in the middle of some renovation. Had a chat about a few things and arranged the next night to take the German couple along for the beginners’ class (my host bailed).

We got there and a guy named Tommy was on reception. The class seemed pretty popular, with about 20 people plus the guys I’d brought along, waiting to join in. Adam was patient in his introductions to the class. Most were on their very first lesson and he gave a brief history of what Krav is and how it came to be, mentioning the founder Imi Lichtenfeld and why Krav Maga is so effective. 

A few questions were asked about reasonable force and Adam pointed out that as most women are, by nature’s design, weaker physically than men, a woman who subdues an attacker violently would be allowed more leeway on the definition of ‘reasonable’ than a man using the same level of violence. 

They then moved into the warm up and Adam took breaks every so often to explain what was going on and usually back this up with an anecdote. I initially wondered how the lesson would go, with a lot of talking from Adam taking place. It turned out that the lesson was the right balance of instruction and verbal reassurance plus tuition, and made it clear that Adam knew exactly how long to speak, teach and let the students practice for.

When the students split into pairs there was one group of three so I volunteered to help out. The students were working with striking, kneeing and scanning. This meant hitting a strike shield and then simulating a groin strike before breaking off to ‘scan’ (check the area around you is clear of further threat.

When they then moved to miming actual knee strikes on each other, I grabbed the groin guard I’d packed just in case (hey, go prepared I say) and Adam saw it, saying to my partner “That is now a licence to kick him hard there!”

My partner was exhibiting a classic case of Nice Person Syndrome, i.e. it is NOT natural to boot someone in the crotch. I invited her to have a free shot and after a couple of attempts and a blustered “Sorry!” she finally got into it. I’ve been there myself and it takes a leap of faith to believe that the groin guard really will withstand a hefty kick.

We then moved to choke releases and I let my partner carry on instead of switching. Adam had demonstrated the necessity of sudden, explosive movement when escaping the front choke with the primary focus being release of the pressure on your neck.

At the end there were groups of three with one person standing still with their eyes closed and a partner with a strike shield moving around them. The third person would randomly ‘choke’ the central figure, who then had to do the release before deciding whether to attack or bail out, when they saw where the strike shield was. This was simulating an attack by more than one person.

I was flattered when Adam then invited me to walk around the mats, checking that the groups were doing their techniques correctly, along with him and Tommy.

At the end after a final summary of what they’d covered the group did the final bow and began to move out. The nervous faces had been replaced by a mixture of sweat and smiles. My friends said they’d enjoyed it and found the instruction useful, especially as they are backpacking around the world right now.

Great to meet the head of KMG Oz & NZ like this and I’m now looking forward to the seminars with Eyal Yanilov in Sydney on the 22nd January.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Practitioner 1 to 5 Grading. SGS Krav Maga.

Nomadic Kravver

Practitioner Level Gradings
SGS Krav Maga, Sydney, Australia
Sunday 11th December 2016

The Number of the Beast

After some pretty intense pre-test revision on Wednesay 7th, on the morning of the grading I got to the venue at about 8.40am.

Steven Kratsas, the chief instructor, had warned us that we needed to be there by 9 o’clock as he intended to kick off at nine twenty AND that we were to be responsible for doing our own warm ups.

Couple of laps around the courtyard then some stretching and at about 9.15 we made our way down into the “basement”.

Now…when told we’d be grading in a basement (or what crafty British estate agents call the “lower ground floor”) I had imagined a big storage area.

Turns out it was an underground car park with mats jigsawed together between the bays, some of which had cars parked in them.


Steven explained that part of the reason was due to the reduced light because most real life attacks won’t take place in a brightly lit dojo. As I’d been a fan of the Mortal Kombat game series back in the day, it was fairly surreal yet unique to be grading in what looked like a meeting point for the Gulf Cartel in Breaking Bad or where Sonya Blade might go in for a Fatality move on Sub-Zero.

Unlike the UK where only P1 is graded ‘in house’, in Australia the Practitioner levels are all tested at the students’ clubs. There were about 20 of us with the majority being P1s and the candidates for each grade thinning until we got to me at the far end, the only P5 student.

Steven split us up into pairs with me and two guys, Andy & David in a group of three as there was an odd number. Andy was going for P3 and David for P4. After the initial Kida, we went over the P1 curriculum, from straight punches to knee defences and then moved up to P2 and onwards. We handled nearly everything from levels 1 to 2 together and then the P1s went off with the instructor Yanni while Steven and Jerome took the rest of us. We began the more technical stuff such as ground releases, choke holds and wrist locks. Andy was a big bloke, while me and David were roughly the same weight and height. This meant when it came to shifting Andy off, I had to get the technique absolutely right as there was no way I could move him with just brute force.

Jerome then lined us all up and said he wanted to see a roll combination. Initially it was “forward roll with another movement of your choice”. I opted for following with a break fall but we had been warned that everyone’s favourite, the backwards roll, would have to be demonstrated. At P5 you need to know all the required tumbles and on my second go I did a forward> backward combo, which is very fiddly to get right, especially as you can’t stand up between them, it’s all about shifting your feet and twisting to accommodate the movement. 

After this we had break falls. I’m happy as a pig in clover with the normal or ‘soft’ forward break fall but we covered all of them including ‘hard’ front and then sideways and backwards. Satisfied with what we’d done, Jerome then moved us on to grade-specific criteria. Me, David and Andy moved into the various knife attacks, choke holds and bear hugs for P3 to 5.
The P1s finished their grading earlier than us and after their closing Kida, most made their way home. The extra space on the mats meant that we could spread out and we moved into some higher P level attacks and defences. When I left the UK to go backpacking last August I brought only my mouth guard. Last week I invested in a groin guard and it was $25 very well spent.
After about 3 hours we then moved into the final phase of the grading.

Now…I’ve done pressure drills, and stuff deliberately designed to invoke exhaustion in Krav Maga. Gradings particularly, the examiners will push you to your physical limits. On this day however, I was about to face a new level of exhaustion from the depths of my adrenal reserves.

On my P4 exam in 2014 Nadav Shoshan was invigilating and got us to do 50 burpees, 50 sit ups and 50 push ups AFTER the grading itself plus thirty minutes of full on sparring. I had been wrecked after this and my T-shirt resembled a used dish cloth.

This time we did multiple attackers. For the P3 to P5 guys this meant one person hitting a strike shield while three others came at him with a gun, knife or long stick. Basic point of the exercise is that you won’t win but you HAVE to keep going while trying to utilize the techniques of disarming that you have hopefully tattooed into your muscle memory. I went first and the whole thing was knackering. I could hear Jerome occasionally yelling “Lance there’s a gun, deal with the gun!” and trying to keep my distance plus avoid getting caught in the middle of the group.


We then moved through everyone else’s go before being told to get shin guards, mouth guards and gloves on for the sparring.

Steven gave us 30 seconds to get ready and said that only the kit we had on at the end of that time would we be allowed to wear on the mat. I managed to get all my gear on but one guy only had a solitary glove while David hadn’t managed to tighten up the Velcro on his shin guards and Jerome forbade him to do so during the fighting. We then got into it and initially it wasn’t too bad but after a couple of rounds I could feel the fatigue creeping back. On round 3, Steven split me and the other higher levels up and got us to fight a couple of the women from the P2 test. I got partnered with a ferocious Asian lady who had a mean round house kick. Then I got David again for the final round who is very agile and we ended up tussling on the floor.

I thought that was the end of it but then we had the final joy of a standing drill. Two lines were formed with the first person turning to face the second. Steven and Jerome announced that this was 15 seconds of continuous body punching, no strikes to the head and no footwork. You had to stand still and just punch. I opened up some remaining adrenaline that I didn’t know I had, (stored on a shelf at the back of the summer house and long covered in dust), and we moved forward one at a time to take our turn. The drill was hard and as I was the last in line I was also going to be the last person to face everyone else. There was one fighter who had a mean right hook and he caught me a right beaut’ in the guts. The pain was intense and I dropped my left arm to cover it but Steven shouted “Lance, you’ve got two arms. Hit with both”.

By this time I was completely beyond any former perception of being exhausted. My hair had come out of its pony tail and wearing 16oz gloves meant I couldn’t stop to put it back. What with the reduced visibility in the car park anyway, plus 7 inches of hair dangling across my face and my clothes sopping in sweat I felt like a scuba diver who’d just kicked up too much silt from the ocean bed and was waiting for his vision to clear.

When it got to my go as the defender, the main thing that kept me upright was knowing this was the final, final thing. Jerome was shouting encouragement and I managed to last the whole course. Then, it was over and Steven advised us to get as much water as we could inside us and then come back for a quick debrief and the final Kida.

Me and two other guys made our way upstairs to the outside tap and the sunlight that hit us was like something from a Dracula movie. 4 hours of training in a subterranean parking lot can do funny things to your eyes. I was wilting under the glare of what can only be described as God’s Flashlight as I stuck my head under the faucet and then glugged down about a litre of water before limping back downstairs.

We lined up and Steven said the instructors would compare notes and then get back to us in the following week to let us know our result. We then gave the final bow and made our way out.

This was the hardest grading I’ve ever attended with the exhaustion levels pushed WAY beyond what I am used to or expected. I spoke to Steven afterwards and when I said “That was really horrible!” he replied that the intention is to deliberately leave us that tired, so we are used to performing under stress and fatigue.

Later on a few of us went for a celebratory meal at Burger Co in the mall across town. My body’s desire for protein and carbs was about the norm for this type of thing and I don’t think the food touched the sides on the way down.

A great experience in a unique setting, in another country and it was a privilege to grade with SGS Krav Maga.